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Egyptians, ere it was instituted to Abraham and his posterity. Let us next see, whether any countenance is given to such an opinion by Josephus and Philo, who have been also quoted to serve the cause.
The vanity of those pleas which are taken from Philo
and Josephus to support the claim of the Egyptians, exposed.
It hath been further remarked by the advocates for the superior antiquity of circumcision among the Egyptians, that Philo would never have omitted asserting it belonged originally to the Jews, in * his treatise on the subject, unless he had been conscious the Egyptians, whose practice he mentions for the vindication of his countrymen, had been examples to them in it. But surely Philo's silence upon this head can have no force to persuade any impartial perfon, that the Egyptians were first in possession of it, as indeed arguments taken from the silence of authors, in general, are of a more dubious and uncertain nature, wherever the fame might proceed from a variety of causes. Philo, though convinced his own nation used the rite earlier than any other, may very reasonably be supposed to have avoided taking any notice of it, left it should give offence to the Egyptians, among whom he lived, they being beyond
cision was unknown to the Egyptians at the time of Moses's nativity, for how unless circumcision had been peculiar to the Israelites, should Pharaoh's daughter have immediately concluded on seeing the child in the coffer, and the sex thereof, ' This is one of the Hebrew children' The force of which observations the reader consider.
. See Philo de Circumcif. ubi fupra.
ineafure jealous of their honour, about the originality of their customs civil and religious, and to have satisfied himself upon this principle, with giving such an explication of the reasons which were assigned for the rite, and the uses to which it was thought subfervient, as tended to justify it both in Jews and Egyptians.-It may even seem, on the other hand, had it been his judgment the Egyptians led the way herein, he would not have failed to observe it, since it would have been much to his purpose of defending circumcision, to have said, not only that the Egyptians, who excelled in numbers and wisdom, were circumcised as well as the Jews, but that they, who were so famous and renowned a people, set a pattern of it to them and the reft of mankind.
With the same view likewise of fhewing, that circumcision obtained sooner among the Egyptians than among Abraham's posterity, it hath been observed, that Josephus does not confute Herodotus's assertion, · That the Syrians in Palestine acknowledged they
learned it from the Egyptians,' when he quotes the fame. But the weakness of this argument from his
+ Says Dr. Middleton, Letter to Dr. Waterland, page 28. ' Josephus, who in his Defence of the Jews against Apion, takes occasion more than once to mention this testimony of Herodotus, instead of censuring or attempting to confute it, argues from it as from a
thing granted;' And then quotes his words against Apion, lib. 2. C. 13. which have been already translated in a former note on this section, making Josephus say, 'The Egyptians are all circumcised, where he only speaks of their priests. But though Josephus takes it for granted, that the Syrians in Palestine spoken of by Herodotus were Jews, there is no colour for saying, he takes for granted the truth of the fact which Herodotus makes them own, that they had learned circumcision from the Egyptians,
work against Apion, hath, if I am not mistaken, been already * discovered. Only it may be proper to add, it is the more unreasonable to draw such an inference as is here done, (I mean, that Josephus approved Herodotus's account of its being derived to his nation from the Egyptians, from his omitting to censure him in patriotic zeal for their credit,) because Jofephus himself labours elsewhere to impress men with a belief that all the rites and ceremonies of the Gentiles, which bore any fimilitude or likeness to the usages of the Jewish people his countrymen, were borrowed from them. For, says the, ' Of old many have “had a great forwardness toimitate our religious rites; • there is no city of the Greeks or Barbarians, no na'tion where a regard to the seventh day, on which
we rest from labour, hath not reached; and where fastings, and burning of lamps, and abstinences ' from many kinds of food, are not observed, &c.' Besides, is Josephus silent, when he recites Herodotus's words which make the Egyptians authors of circumcision to them, as to the rest of mankind? So is Origen in one place, when he mentions Celsus's reproachi, that the Colchians and Egyptians were taughtcircumcision by the Jews; but did Origen therefore esteem Celsus's reflection just? We are sure he did not; for in another Spassage, as we have seen, he shews his conviction, that Abraham was circumcised first among men. As therefore Origen's assent to the story of the Egyptians in Herodotus, when it comes
See part 1. fe&t. lalt, p. 40. + Contra Ap. lib. 2. c. 39.
Ubi supra, Origen ady. Cell. 5. 259.
from Celsus's pen, cannot be gathered with truth from his forbearing to contradict it, at his introduction of it, no more is Josephus's acquiescence in the justice of his tale, to be collected merely from his neglecting to deny and oppose the same, where he brings it in; and the less, because it did not fall in with his view then, as was said, to call him to account Sfor it: not to repeat what was also before observed, that he hath sufficiently discovered his sense elsewhere, that at God's institution of the rite to Abraham and his posterity, its use was peculiar to them. *
Ś See part 1. fe&t. laft,
p. 40. • I am aware, Dr. Middleton urges also Jofephus's words, Antiq. 8. 10. 3. where after quoting Herodotus's account about the confession of the Syrians in Palestine, and remarking, 'It is manifest none • others of the Syrians in Palestine are circumcised, but ourselves a. • lone;' he adds, ' About these things however let every one speak * as he pleases.' For would Josephus have expressed himself in this manner, if he had not looked upon circumcision as of previous use among the Egyptians ? But I answer, these words must relate chiefly at least, if not solely, to the story of Shisak’s plundering the city and temple of Jerusalem, and to the question, whether Herodotus referred to that transaction or not; for Josephus having related the history contained in 2 Chron. xii. and 1 Kings, xiv. adds, “Herodotus the Hali
carnallian hath mentioned this expedition, only committing a mistake * about the name of the king, (he intends, it hath been thought, he * calls him Sesostris, lib. 2. p. 145.) for he tells us, that he invaded
many other nations, and reduced to servitude Palestine in Syria, haying taken its men without fighting a stroke. Now it is plain he meant
to declare, that our nation was subdued by the Egyptian, since he • says, he left pillars in their country, who surrendered to him without
any battle, with a figure engraven on them which was expressive of their effeminacy, ayfore yuvaitwr tyypefas; and Rehoboam our king yielded the city to him without lifting an arm.' Then he goes
Upon the whole then, I apprehend, I may conclude without incurring any blame either for want of understanding, or candour, or moderation, that Mr. Voltaire and others have had nosufficient reason for affirming, that the rite of circumcision was introduced among the Jews in imitation of the practice of on, 'He also says, that the Ethiopians learned circumcifion from the E• gyptians, for the Phenicians and Syrians in Palestine own they learned • it from them,' and concludes as above in the beginning of this note. Now hereby every one must perceive, what Josephus writes about the testimony of Herodotus to the circumcision of the Jews, is only brought in to Thew, that this historian, by the country of Palestine in Syria which Sefoftris conquered so easily, understood their country; and therefore, that the indulgence which he gives to every person to speak about these things according to his sentiments, must refer chiefly, if not only, to the subject which gave rise to that episode, if I may so call it, for the confirmation of his opinion, that Herodotus described the same expedition of the king of Egypt against Jerusalem, which was described in their sacred books. Dr. Middleton indeed contends, that his allowance of this freedom of speech, regards what he had said about circumcision, not only in part, which may be granted, because the mention of circumcision immediately precedes the words which contain it, but principally, if not solely; and he gives this reason for sayingit must be thought to do so, ' That though Josephus uses the same reflection
very often, he never applies it but to some fact or point of great mo
ment to the truth or essential character of the Jewish religion. There• fore, as the story of Shisak is of no consequence to the Jewish nation
or religion, it is rational to think the reflection here is to be applied • (he should have said, especially,) to the case of circumcision, which • is of consequence thereunto.' See Middleton's Remarks on a Reply to the Defence of his Letter to Dr. Waterland, Works, vol. 3. p. 187. But whoever takes the trouble of examining all the places where Josephus uses that mode of expression, will be sensible that he does not al. ways confine his use of it to matters so important. Here in particular, of whatever moment it was to a Jew to be circumcised, it was a thing which no way affected the truth or effential character of the Jewish religion, whether Herodotus took notice that the Jews practised the ce