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< to accident, to fraud, or to fiction; till we
are fully satisfied, that it lies beyond the “ reach of those causes?". . If we cast away this buckler, the blind fury of superstition, from every age of the world, and from every corner of the globe, will invade us naked and unarmed.: 13.5025;Badi
starts ... The eager trembling curiosity of mankind
. has ever wished to penetrate into futurity; nor is there perhaps any country, where enthusiasm and knavery have not pretended to satisfy this anxious craving of the human heart. These self-inspired prophets have strove by various arts to supply the want of a divine mission. Sometimes adapting their conjectures to the present situation of things, and to the passions and prejudices of those, for whom their oracles were intended, they have involved themselves ing the mystic veil of dark, general, and ambiguous metaphors: and embracing an indefinite space, they have trusted to time and fortune for the accomplishment of their predictjons, or to the industry of kind commentators for a favourable interpretation of them. Sometimes they have commenced prophets, and even true prophets at a very easy rate, by delivering the narrative of things already past under the name of some celebrated character of a distant
age. As the series of events gradually unfolds itself, those which the supposed ancient could have read only in the book of fate, are transcribed by the more enlightened modern from any common history.
Virgil (the example is innocent and unexceptionable) has left us specimens of both these prophetic arts.: I have often' wondered at the rashness of crities who have tryed tő ascertain the subject of the fourth Eclogue, and to point out the wonderful infant,'' the restorer of a golden age. That modest and judicious Poet would not surely have risked the smallest part of his reputation, on the miscarriage of a woman, or the precarious life of a child. The picture is richly, nay profusely coloured ; but the design is traced with so vague a pencil, that it might adapt itself to any events or to any interpretation ; that it might equally suit a literal or an allegorical sense; the son of Pollio, of Antony, or of Augustus ;. the restoration of liberty, or the tranquillity of the world under one master. Far different are the prophecies delivered to Æneas concerning the fate and fortunes of his descendants. The Trojan hero is indulged with a full and distinct view of the most remote futurity; and the visionary prospect is closed by the mournful apparition of a youth, who would have rivalled the greatest of his ancestors, had not the gods envied such virtues to Rome and to mankind.
From this single remark, we should think ourselves authorized to infer, that Virgil lived in the Augustan age; and that the sixth book was composed during the yet recent grief for the loss of young Marcellus. The Poet indeed meant not to deceive us: like the author of the Persian Letters, or of the Moral Dialogues, his only aim was to convey important truths under the pleasing cover of fiction. But had Virgil seriously pretended, that his sketch of the "Roman history was a faithful transcript from an old Sibylline oracle; had Augustus from motives of policy favoured the deceit, and had the Romans adopted it with religious respect; would any man of sense want better evidence of the pious fraud, than the very clearness and precision of the prophecy ? The unanimous judgment passed on the yet extant collection of the Sibylline Oracles affords an easy answer to this question. Every critic who has observed that their prophetic light ceases with the reign of Hadrian, has pronounced them without hesitation to be a forgery of that period.
However, as no Christian can dispute the reality of Divine Inspiration, nor any philosopher deny the possibility of it; the suspicion, that a prophecy too clear and precise was composed after the event, though extremely strong, is capable of being removed by still stronger positive evidence. Without insisting on any fanciful or impracticable conditions, we have (I think) a right to expect, that the existence of such a prophecy prior to its accomplishment should be proved, by the knowledge of it being generally diffused amongst an enlightened nation, previous to that period; and its public existence attested, by an unbroken chain of authentic writers. Till such evidence is produced, we may fairly sit down in a calm and well-grounded scepticism.
I have endeavoured to form something like this chain of witnesses in favour of the Book of Daniel; but without being able to carry it higher than the first century of the Christian æra. Josephus seems to expatiate with pleaşure on the praises of that great man ; whose character, in some instances, he proposed as a model for his own. He celebrates the various merit of Daniel, as a statesman, a prophet, and even as an architect. His prophetic writings (says Josephius) which are still extant, evince his familiar intercourse with the Deity, and his perfect knowledge of futurity. He even possessed some material advantages above the rest of his inspired brethren ; not contented with declaring future events, he ascertains the time when they were to happen ; and instead of announcing calamities, he is most commonly the messenger of good news. The rise and fall of successive empires so clearly described and so punctually accomplished, ought to convince the disciples of Epicurus, that human affairs, instead of being left to the blind impulsion of chance, are pre-ordained by an all-directing Providence. Nothing can be desired fuller or more honourable for Daniel than this testimony of the Jewish historian. I am only concerned that he did not publish his Antiquities till the ninety-third year of the Christian æra ; two hundred and fifty-seven years after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, and more than six centuries later than the time, in which the Prophet is supposed to have flourished.