Now, the distortion witnesses to the reality of that of which it is the distortion; the caricature to the existence of the feature caricatured. And so the universality of the existence of Superstition witnesses to the reality of these supernatural revelations and interpositions to which alone such a thing can be referred as its origin.
Another argument which the author of “Supernatural Religion” uses to discredit miracles, is the superstition of the Jews, especially in our Lord’s time, and their readiness to believe any miraculous story. He seems to suppose that this superstition reached its extreme point in the age in which Christ lived, which he calls “the age of miracles.” He also assumes that it was an age of strong religious feeling and excitement. He says:—
“During the whole life of Christ, and the early propagation of the religion, it must be borne in mind that they took place in an age, and among a people, which superstition had made so familiar with what were supposed to be preternatural events, that wonders awakened no emotion, or were speedily superseded by some new demand on the ever ready belief.” (Vol. i. p. 98.)
He proceeds to devote above twenty pages to instances of the superstition and credulity of the Jews about the time of Christ. The contents of these pages would be amusing if they did not reveal such deep mental degradation in a race which Christians regard as sacred, because of God’s dealings with their fathers.
Most readers, however, of these pages on the Demonology and Angelology of the Jews will, I think, be affected by them in a totally different way, and will draw a very different inference, from what the writer intends. The thoughtful reader will ask, “How could the Evangelical narratives be the outcome of such a hotbed of superstition as the author describes that time to have been?” It is quite impossible, it is incredible that the same natural cause, i.e. the prevalence of superstition, should have produced about the same time the Book of Enoch and the Gospel according to St. Matthew. And this is the more remarkable from the fact that the Gospels are in no sense more Sadducean than the Book of Enoch. The being and agency of good and evil spirits is as fully recognized in the inspired writings as in the Apocryphal, but with what a difference! I append in a note a part of the author’s reproduction of the Book of Enoch, that the reader may see how necessary it is, on all principles of common sense, to look for some very different explanation of the origin of the Evangelical narratives than that given by the author of “Supernatural Religion.” [168:1]
In the Evangelical narratives I need hardly say the angels are simply messengers, as their name imports, and absolutely nothing more. When one describes himself it is in the words, “I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee and to show thee these glad tidings.”