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The Practice of other Historians, as well as the Evangelifs, to
neglect the Order of Time. Several Instances out of the
OWEVER ftrange. it may seem to some, that these fa
cred writers should thus disregard the order of time, and confequently differ so much from each other; yet this will not at all derogate from their honour and authority, if the matter be duly and impartially considered. For as this is very often, upon many accounts, undoubtedly the best way of writing history, so it has been the practice of the best historians, both sacred and profane, in all ages and countries. Mr. Whiston indeed tells us, that those who do not take his method, and suppose St. Matthew's Gospel in our present copies misplaced, are forced on another method, which plainly implies the frequent inaccuracy, if not falsehood, of the inspired writers themselves a. This is a very hard charge indeed, which at once falls upon all the harmonizers and commentators of the Gospels, that ever wrote before Mr. Whifton. It is strange that all these good men, who had so great a veneration for inspired writers, should thus charge the Evangelists with inaccuracies, if not falsehood ; Mr. Whifton will agree with me, they had none of them this design, and then I am not afraid to affert, that no such thing follows from the method they took, to reconcile the Evangelists.
The substance of their charge amounts to no more than this, viz. That they suppose the Evangelists, not to have ab ways, and in every particular instance, observed the order of time; but this is so far from supposing an inaccuracy or falfekoed in the Evangelists, that it is only supposing them to have
taken the best method, and the method the best historians have taken, before and since their time.
For the clearing of this matter, I will endeavour to shew:
1. That this is a thing very common in the history of the Old Teftament.
II. That it has been the practice of the best profane hiftorians.
III. Offer some reasons, why the Evangelists neglected the order of time.
I. The writers of the history of the Old Testament very froquently deviate from the order of time, in relating several branches of their history; sometimes placing them much sooner, fometimes much later, than the time, in which they really came to pass. This was very remarkably the practice of that best and most accurate of all historians, Mofes. For instance,
Gen. xxv. 7, 8, 9. He places the death of Abraham before the birth of Isaac's two sons, Efau and Jacob, ver. 24, 25, &c. whereas it is very certain, that Abraham was alive when they were born, aud lived at least fifteen years afterwards, as will appear by the following account.
Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Ifaac was born, Gen. xxi. 5. Isaac was threescore years old, when his sons Efau and Jacob were born, ch. xxv. 26. therefore Abraham was but a hundred and threescore at their birth. But Abraham lived till he was a hundred and seventy five, ch. xxv. 7. and therefore it is evident, that the death of Abraham is, placed at least fifteen years too soon, being placed before the birth of Efau and Jacob; whereas if the order of time had been observed, it must have been placed at least fifteen years afterwards.
The same may be observed also, concerning the historian's placing his account of the death of Ifaac, Gen. xxxv. 28, 29. It is placed before the selling of Joseph into Egypt by his brethren, ch. xxxvii. whereas, if the order of time had been observed, it ought to have been placed after; it being certain,
that Ifaac lived at least twelve years after that time, aś will appear by the following account.
Joseph was thirty years old, when he was advanced by Pharach in Egypt, Gen. xli. 46. After this there came seven years of plenty, ver. 47, 53. and two years of famine, before Jacob came down to Egypt, ch. xlv. 6. So that Joseph was at least thirty nine years old, when Jacob his father came down to Egypt; Jacob, when he came down to Egypt, was a hundred and thirty years old, ch. xlvii. 9. Now from the time of Jofeph's being sold by his brethren, till this time, (viz. till his 39th year) were twenty two years, because he was fold in his seventeenth year, ch. xxxvii. 2. If then we take the twenty two years, which Joseph was in Egypt, from the hundred and thirty of Jacob; it is plain that Jacob was a hundred and eight, when Joseph was seventeen, and consequently, when Joseph was sold to Egypt, Isaac was no more than a hundred and fixty right; for Jacob (who was at this time but a hundred and eight) was born, when Ifaac was fixty years old, ch. xxv. 26. Now Isaac lived till he was a hundred and eighty years old, ch. xxxv. 28. and consequently twelve years after Joseph was fold into Egypt. So that it is evident, the account of Isaac's death is not placed according to the order of time, but at least twelve years sooner, than that order required.
Another very remarkable instance to the fame purpose, viz. of the author of the book of Genesis not observing the order of time in his hiftory, we have ch. xxxviii. The several matters there related, are placed between the account of Joseph's being sold into Egypt, and his advancement before Pharaoh. This interval, or space of time, consists of no more than thirteen years; for Jofeph was fold in his seventeenth, and advanced in his thirtieth year. Now upon a close consideration of the circumstances of the history, it will appear morally impoffible, that all the several matters, related in that chapter, should have come to pass in that time, as will be evident by just naming them.
First, Judah leaves his father's family, and marries, and fucceslively begat three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. When the eldest came to age, he married Tamar; some time after
the Lord New him, and Onan the second brother married his widow; after his death she continued a confiderable time a widow, expecting the time, when the third fon would be grown up and marry her. He grows up, but refuses to marry her; therefore she plays the harlot with her father in law Judah, and by him the hath two fons. And all this must have been in less than the space of thirteen years, unless we suppose the historian not to have observed the order of time; which certainly he did not, a great part of what is here related, having undoubtedly come to pass, a considerable time before Joseph was sold into Egypta.
These are instances sufficient to prove, that though the Evangelists did not always confine themselves to observe the order of time, yet they had the example of the best historian in the world, to justify their practice in neglecting it.
Nor was this only the practice of Moses, but of most, if not all, the writers of the sacred history of the Old Testament. There is a noted example of this in the book of Judges, the last five chapters of which history ought, if the order of time had been observed, to have been placed near the beginning of it. The story of Micah's idolatry, and the expedition of the tribe of Dan, ch. xvii. and xviii. of the Levite's concubine, and the war on her account, ch. xix. xx. and xxi. are each of them placed above 200 years too late, which is easy enough to be proved. Hence Josephus has placed the history of the three last chapters, before the history of the Judges, and the Old Hebrew Chronologer has placed the story of Micah, and the tribe of Dan's idolatry, and the story of the Levite's concubine in the time of Othniel, the first of the Judges; and, as far as I can find, most chronologers and commentators are of the same mind a.
a Quomodo ergo hæc omnia intra tam paucos annos fieri potuerint, merito movet; nisi, ut forte folet, scriptura per recapitulationem, aliquot annos ante venditum Jofeph, hoc fieri cæpiffe intelligi velit, &c. August. Quæst. Sup. Gen. l. I. c. 128.
• Antiq. Jud. lib. 5. c. 2.
c Seder. Olam Rabba, c. 20. p. 50.
d Dr. Lightfoot Chronic. and Harmon. of the Old Teft. on Judges, &c. Usher Chronol. Sacr. p. 199.1
Petav. Rationar. Temp.l. 1. c. 6. Junius ad Jud. 17. 1. Spanheim. Hift. Eccl. V. T. Epoch. 4. 6. 10.
The story of Shimei's death, 1 Kings ii. 39. &c. is evi. dently placed three years' too soon in the history.
Abundance of other such instances might be collected out of the historical books, were it neceffary.. Those that have a mind to see them, may consult Dr. Lightfoot and Usher, &c. I would only add, that this has been a very antient and common observation; and that for this purpose the famous fixth rule of Ticonius“, called Recapitulatio, was invented. But,
II. This is not a practice peculiar to the sacred writers, but made use of by all historians. The most accurate and exact among those, who are called profane writers, have taken this liberty in composing their histories. Livy, Plutarch, Suetonius, Florus, &c. have all upon particular occasions neglected the exact order of time. Suetonius, for instance, is very frequent in this practice; continually laying matters of a like nature together, without regard to the order of time, in which they were done. In the Life of Augustus he expressly tells us, it was his design to do fod: “ not to confine himself to “ strict chronology, or the order of time, in which the several « things were done ; but instead of being punctual to the « time, join actions of a like nature together, that so they “ might be more clearly perceived and known.” This any one, who reads his memoirs of Augustus's life, will perceive he has done, just as St. Matthew and the other Evangelists, in writing the memoirs of our Saviour's life.
To the same purpose Lucius Floruse intimates, " That he would not observe the strict order of time, but that the
à Lib. jam citi
tionem vitæ. Sic cum narramus, b Chronol, Sacr.
quæ quis publice, quæ privatim, Apud August. de Doct. Chrift.
quæ fortiter, quæ moderate, quæ 1. 3. C. 36.
serio, quæ jocose egerit, non obPropofita vitæ ejus velut sum fervato annorum ordine. Pitisc. ma, partes figillatim, neque per ad Loc. tempora, sed per species, exfequar; e Quæ etfi involuta inter fe sunt quo
distin&tius demonftrari cognof- omnia atque confusa, tamen, quo cique poffint. Suetonius in Auguft. melius appareant, fimul et ne iceç. 9:
lera virtutibus obftrepant, separatim śic folent scriptores--per spe- proferentur, &c. L. Flor. lib. 2. c. jes exfequi, i. e. fecundum actiones et genera, narrare ftatum et condi.