The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
People in these times are still so influenced by the ideas engendered by the fifteen centuries of ecclesiastical régime, during which hatred and contempt for the Jewish race formed an
important Christian virtue, that they entirely overlook the influence exercised by Judaism over the minds of the heathen world so long as the Temple stood, and the national worship was celebrated there in all its glory. When the Romans, by their conquest of Syria, and soon after of Egypt, came into direct contact with the Jewish nation, although they disliked them individually, yet they conceived an intense admiration for their ancient, mysterious, and solemn worship. But, in fact, every institution, hallowed by the stamp of antiquity, immediately commanded the respect of the genuine old Roman. The Emperors lost no time in gaining a new patron, of mighty and undefined power, in Jehovah, by instituting a daily sacrifice to be ever offered at their own cost on behalf of themselves and empire. The discontinuance of this sacrifice, by the faction of the Zealots which had taken possession of the Temple, is noted by Josephus as the consummating act of the great revolt and attempt to re-establish independence, which brought down final destruction upon Zion. To give a few examples of the hold Judaism had taken upon the imaginations of the highest classes in Rome, whence its vastly magnified power over the minds of the vulgar, may be calculated according to the well-known rule of proportion in such matters. To mark Augustus’ freedom from superstition, Suetonius quotes the circumstance of his highly commending the conduct of his grandson Caius, his heir apparent, because--during his visit to Egypt and Palestine--he had forborne to visit Apis in the one and the Temple in the other country. Putting the two religions in this way upon an equality, of itself demonstrates the high place then held by the Jewish in popular estimation; for by that time the Egyptian, as the chapter upon the Serapis-worship will show, had to a great extent superseded the worship of the national deities of Rome. Fuscus Aristius, a friend of Horace's, and therefore to be supposed a person of consequence and of education, makes it his excuse for not attending to a business-matter, that the day happened to be the Sabbath, and that "he was a little superstitious, like many others."
The influence and numbers of the Jews actually residing at Rome under the Republic is strikingly exhibited by some
observations of Cicero in his oration in defence of Flaccus. Flaccus, when commanding in Asia, had prohibited the sending of money to Jerusalem. This money can only mean the tribute paid by each adult Jew to the Temple, of half a shekel, or two drachmæ a head. Flacons seized the money that had been collected for the purpose in defiance of his edict, amounting at Apamea to nearly one hundred pounds weight of gold, at Laodicea to twenty. The only gold piece of the age being the stater, current for twenty-five drachmæ, and of the weight of fifty to the pound, these collections would give us fifty thousand tribute-payers at the former city, and ten thousand at the other. The orator considers this "auri Judaici invidia" so damaging to his cause, that he explains the circumstances in a whisper to the jurymen, in order not to excite the indignation of the Jews amongst his audience. He actually declares that Flaccus's enemies had managed that his cause should be tried in that particular court in order to have the aid of the Jews domiciled in that quarter of Rome, to intimidate the jury, and so gain a verdict against him. "Sequitur auri illa invidia Judaici. Hoc nimirum est illud, quod non longe a gradibus Aureliis hæc causa dicitur. Ob hoc crimen hic locus abs te, Laeli, atque illa turba qæsita est. Scis quanta sit manus, quanta concordia, quantum valeat in concionibus. Submissa voce agam, tantum ut judices audiant. Neque enim desunt qui istos in me atque in optimum quemque incitent, quos ego quo id facilius faciant non adjuvabo." (Chapter XXVIII.) And what is still more surprising this influence continued to work even after the fall of Jerusalem, and the extinction of the people as a nation. Spartianus mentions that Severus in his tour of investigation throughout Asia, when he forbade people to turn Christians, extended the same interdict to the Jewish religion also. Again, to show the natural good-heartedness of Caracalla, he instances his indignation on account of the severe flogging which a boy, his playfellow, had received from his father, with the emperor's approbation, on the score of his Judaising. The circumstances of the friendship point out that the boy thus made a "confessor" must have belonged to one of the best families of Rome. Such a position yet retained by the religion of Abraham is almost inconceivable
at that late period, when it had, besides the vigorous and ever-increasing growth of Christianity, to contend with the varieties of the Gnosis which suited themselves to every taste, and in many instances had sprung immediately out of herself (not out of her hated daughter and rival), and by their union with heathen philosophy, were naturally more attractive to the Gentiles than the original parent. Even at the time when one would have expected the prejudice against anything belonging to that nation to have been the most violent amongst the Romans, we find Vespasian, the actual destroyer of their national existence, erecting a statue in the most honourable of all situations, to an Alexandrian Jew, Tiberius, who had assisted him in his attempt to gain the empire, in some manner not recorded, but possibly in his capacity of the Rothschild of the age by an opportune loan. It is true that Juvenal cannot repress his indignation of all this prostitution to a foreigner of an honour before confined to the most eminent of his countrymen, and hints it to be the duty of every true Roman to express his sense of the injury by committing nuisances under the very nose of the statue.
In the third century we find the model emperor, Severus Alexander, setting up the image of Abraham by the side of Christ and Orpheus, all considered as the divinely-inspired founders of the several schools of mystery (or to go to the probable root of the belief, as so many different Buddhas), in the most holy recess of his domestic chapel. A little research amongst the annals of the later emperors would no doubt, furnish many other examples of the hold taken by various particulars of the Jewish creed, in its Babylonian and Alexandrian phases, upon the religious notions of the Romans The fact is easily accounted for, when men's ideas upon the nature of the soul, of God's Government, and of a future state, are entirely vague, as were those of the educated heathen of those times, when (old traditions being discarded as mere unsatisfying poetical fables) they attempted to build up systems
that should explain every difficulty by the help of reason and philosophy alone, although destitute of any solid grounds upon which to lay the first foundation of the fabric. Things being in this state, a religion venerable by its antiquity (itself an impenetrable shield against the shafts of infidelity, as even Tacitus concedes: "Hi ritus, quoquo modo inducti, antiquitate defenduntur" Hist. v. 5), possessing a complete system that solved every problem by a professedly divine revelation, totally setting itself above reason and human experience, but proclaiming unquestioning credence as the most meritorious of virtues, such a religion could not but gain the victory over its disorderly and discordant competitors, which had nothing but arguments deduced from probabilities and analogies wherewith to oppose it. The same contest we behold passing under our own eyes; Roman Catholicism with its doctrines overthrown, exploded, rejected by reason, learning, and philosophy, for the space of three centuries, is again rapidly bringing back into her fold her lost sheep, which, having wandered through the tempting ways of Protestantism, and of philosophy or infidelity, however people choose to call it, and unable to discover any reason that will bear the test for standing fast at any ultimate point as the absolute truth, at last return weary and disappointed to whence they started, and find it conducive to peace of mind to accept assertion for demonstration, and the age of a tenet as equivalent to its truth.
There is yet another consideration that is of great importance in the present inquiry, which is the close affinity between the Judaism of this period and Magian, the extent of which will be pointed out in the following sections when we come to speak of the Talmud. Remembering how much of the machinery of the one was borrowed from the other, there is little cause for astonishment at discovering that what are generally considered peculiarly Jewish titles of Deity upon relics, may rather be attributed to a Magian source.
The three circumstances thus briefly adduced--namely, the direct influence of the religion of Zion as a "mystery" of the most venerable antiquity, vying with those of Egypt and of Babylon; its subsequent indirect influence through its offshoots
[paragraph continues] (which left its visible impress upon things tangible); the virtue of its connection with the creed of the Magi, the secret priesthood, or rather, freemasons of the ancient world; these are the things solving the difficulty that must have struck any inquiring mind when beginning to study the so-called Gnostic remains. From the foregoing considerations, at least a plausible reason may be gathered for the fact of the Hebrew names of the Deity, and of his angels, and of the patriarchs, so perpetually being repeated on works presenting the figures of genii and of astral spirits--forms of idol-monsters the most repugnant, one would have thought, to the feelings of the worshippers of those sacred names, profaned by such union; and imagery, from beholding which the true follower of Moses must certainly have recoiled in horror.