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offering sacrifices to the vilest and most contemptible animals and reptiles, such as snakes, crocodiles, serpents, and cats. Indeed, God, in his righteous judgment, gave them up to a reprobate mind, and whilst they professed themselves to be wise, they became fools, for having changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image, made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.
The funeral ceremonies of the Egyptians deserve particular notice, for no people, of whom we have any account transmitted to us, ever paid so much regard to the bodies of their departed friends. Of this we have a striking instance in what still remains of their pyramids, the most stupendous buildings that ever were erected to perpetuate the memory of their princes. This ostentation, like most other customs, originated first in the courts of their kings, but in time was imitated, as far as lay in their power, by the lower ranks of people.
When any of their relations died, the whole family quitted the place of their abode, and during sixty or seventy days, according to the rank or quality of the deceased, abstained from all the comforts of life, excepting such as were necessary to support nature. They embalmed the bodies, and many persons were employed in performing this ceremony. The brains were drawn through the nostrils with an instrument, and the intestines were. emptied by cutting a hole in the abdomen, or belly, with a sharp stone, after which the cavities were filled up with perfumes, and the finest odoriferous spices; but the person who made the incision in the body for this purpose, and who was commonly a slave, was obliged to run away immediately after, or the people present would have stoned him to death; but those who embalmed the body were treated with the utmost respect.
The interior parts of the body were filled with all sorts of curious spices, which they purchased from the Arabians, and after a certain number of days had expired, it was wrapped up in fine linen, glued together with gum, and then spread over with the richest perfumes. The body being thus embalmed, was delivered to the relations, and placed either in a sepulchre, or in their own houses, according to their rank and ability. It stood in a wooden chest, erect; and all those who visited the family treated it with some marks of respect. This was done, that those who knew them while alive should endeavour to imitate their conduct after death. Of this we have a striking instance in the account of the funeral of Joseph, in Egypt, and the regard that was paid to his remains long after his decease. The Egyptians would not suffer praises to be bestowed indiscriminately upon every person, let his rank be ever so elevated, for characters given to the deceased were bestowed by the judges, who represented the people at large. The judges who were to examine into the merits of the deceased met on the opposite side of a lake, of which there were many in Egypt; and while they crossed the lake, he who sat at the belm was called Charon, which gave rise to the fable among the Greeks, that Charon conducted the souls of deceased persons into the Elysian fields, or the infernal regions. When the judges met, all those who had anything to object against the deceased person were heard ; and if it appeared that he had been a wicked person, then his name was condemned to perpetual infamy, nor could his dearest relations erect any monument to perpetuate his memory.
This made a deep impression on the minds of the people ; for nothing operates more strongly than the fear of shame, and the consideration of our deceased relations being consigned to infamy hereafter. Kings themselves were not exempted from this inquiry; all their actions were canvassed at large by the judges, and the same impartial decision took place as if it had been upon one of the meanest of the subjects. Of this we have some instances in Scripture, where we read that wicked kings were not suffered to be interred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Happy for mankind, if this were more attended to in our days; then wicked princes and sovereigns would learn, that notwithstanding their elevated rank in life, yet the justice of their country, which they often trample on, will scrutinize with severity their actions, while their bodies are consigned to the silent tomb.
If no objection was made to the conduct of the deceased, then a funeral oration was delivered in memory of him, reciting his most worthy actions ; but no notice was taken of his birth, because every Egyptian was considered as noble. No praises were bestowed, but such as related to temporal merit; and he was applauded for having cultivated piety to the gods, and discharged his duty to his fellow-creatures. Then all the people shouted with voices of applause, and the body was honourably interred. The Egyptians, however, believed much in the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, and likewise that for some time after death the souls of the deceased hovered round the bodies; which, among many others, was one of the reasons why they deferred the interment of their relations so long.
SEC. II.--RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND CEREMONIES OF THE CARTHA
GINIANS AND TYRIANS. The religion of the Carthaginians, which was the same as that of the Tyrians, Phænicians, Philistines, and Canaanites, was most horrid and barbarous; and so regular were they in practising what will ever dishonour human nature, that Christians, in attending to their duty, may take an example from them. Nothing of any moment was undertaken without consulting the gods, which they did by a variety of ridiculous rites and ceremonies
. Hercules was the god in whom they placed most confidence; at least, he was the same to them as Mars was to the Romans, so that he was invoked before they went upon any expedition ; and when they obtained a victory, sacrifices and thanksgivings were offered up to him. They had many other deities whom they worshipped; but the chief of these was Urania, or the Moon, whom they addressed under different calamities; such as drought, rain, hail, thunder, or any dreadful storms. The Christian fathers, having attained to the knowledge of the truth, often in their writings ridicule these imaginary deities, particularly St. Austin, who was a native of Hippo in Africa, and consequently had reason to point out the absurdities of their idolatry. Urania, or the Moon, is the same which the prophet calls the queen of heaven, Jer. vii. 18; and there we find the inspired writer reproving the Jewish women for offering up cakes and other sorts of sacrifices to her.
Saturn was the other deity whom the Carthaginians principally worship
ped ; and he was the same with what is called Moloch in Scripture. This idol was the deity to whom they offered up human sacrifices, and to this we owe the fable of Saturn's having devoured his own children. Princes and great men, under particular calamities, used to offer up their most beloved children to this idol. Private persons iinitated the conduct of their princes, and thus in time the practice became general; nay, to such a height did they carry their infatuation, that those who had no children of their own purchased those of the poor, that they might not be deprived of the benefits of such a sacrifice, which was to procure them the completion of their wishes. This horrid custom prevailed long among the Phænicians, the Tyrians, and the Carthaginians; and from them the Israelites borrowed it, although expressly contrary to the order of God.
The original practice was to burn these innocent children in a fiery furnace, like those in the valley of Hinnom, so often mentioned in Scripture; and sometimes they put them into a hollow brass statue of Saturn, flaming hot. To drown the cries of the unhappy victims, musicians were ordered to play on different instruments and mothers-shocking thought!—made it à sort of merit to divest themselves of natural affections while they beheld the barbarous spectacle. If it happened that a tear dropped from the eyes of a mother, then the sacrifice was considered as of no effect; and the parent who had that remaining spark of tenderness was considered as an enemy to the public religion. This savage barbarity, which will for ever remain a disgrace to corrupted nature, was carried to such a height, that even mothers, divesting themselves of that tenderness peculiar to their sex and character, would often embrace their children and then cheerfully commit them to the flames. In latter times they contented themselves with making their children walk between two slow fires to the statue of the idol ; but this was only a more slow and excruciating torture, for the innocent victims always perished. This is what in Scripture is called the making their sons and daughters pass through the fire to Moloch ; and barbarous as it was, yet those very Israelites in whose favour God had wrought so many wonders, demeaned themselves so low as to comply with it.
It appears from Tertullian, who was himself a native of Carthage, that this inhuman practice continued to take place long after the Carthaginians liad been subdued by the Romans. That celebrated father tells us, that children were sacrificed to Saturn or Moloch down to the proconsulship of Tiberius, who hanged the sacrificing priests themselves on the trees which shaded their temple, as on so many crosses raised to expiate their crimes, of which the soldiers were witnesses who assisted at these executions. In all times of pestilence, they used to sacrifice a vast number of children to their idols; and thus, by endeavouring to atone for their sins, they only increased the number. Sometimes they cut open the bowels of the victim and then threw it into the fire; but the most common practice was to burn it alive.
Diodorus relates an instance of this more than savage barbarity, which is sufficient to fill any mind with horror. He tells us that when Agathocles was going to besiege Carthage, the people seeing the extremity to which they were reduced,
imputed all their misfortunes to the anger of their god Saturn, because that, instead of offering up to him children nobly born, he lead been fraudulently put off with the children of slaves and foreigners. That a sufficient atonement should be made for this crime, as the infatuated people considered it, two hundred children of the best families in Carthage were sacrificed, and no less than three hundred of the citizens voluntarily sacrificed themselves,—that is, they went into the fire without compulsion.
Such was the religion of the ancient Carthaginians, the Phænicians, the Tyrians, and indeed the Philistines, who were, as we have already observed, a remnant of the Canaanites.
SEC. III.-RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES AND CUSTOMS OF THE ASSYRIANS.
In treating of the religion of the ancient Assyrians, we must be partly directed by sacred history, but more particularly by what has been transmitted to us by pagan writers. It is in general allowed that Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, was the first founder of idolatry; and there remains no manner of doubt but he was the same who was afterwards worshipped under the title of Belus, which in the Eastern language means “strength.” He is in Scripture called a mighty hunter before the Lord ; and different opinions have been formed concerning the singularity of this very extraordinary character, but the whole may be reduced to a very narrow compass.
The descendants of Noah soon forgot the knowledge of the true God, and plunged themselves into the grossest idolatries; but as the passions of men are often made subservient towards promoting the ends of Divine Providence, and as the worst intentions of men often become beneficial in the end, so Nimrod, by his ambition, laid the foundation of an empire, which existed for many years after his death, and in the end became a scourge to those people of whom God made choice. That he was a mighty hunter, cannot be doubted; and under that character he displayed his political abilities in two respects. The country in which he lived was infested with wild beasts, and therefore he acquired popularity by delivering the people from the ravages made by those furious creatures ; and secondly, by hunting, he trained up the youth in all sorts of martial exercises, and inured them to all sorts of hardships. He formed them to the use of arms and discipline, that in a proper time he might make them subservient to his purposes, in extending his power over his peaceful neighbours. That he resided for some time at Babylon, or rather at the place which has since obtained that name, cannot be doubted; but Nineveh was the grand seat of his empire. This city was built on the eastern banks of the river Tigris, and it was one of the largest ever known in the world. It was above sixty miles in circumference; the walls were a hundred feet high, and so broad, that chariots could pass each other upon them. The walls were adorned with fifteen hundred towers, and each of these two hundred feet high, which may in some measure account for what we read in the book of Jonah, that Nineveh was an exceeding great city, of three days' journey.
“ Her lofty towers shone like meridian beavis,
And as a world within herself she seems.''
Fortified within such an extensive city, and regardless of the duty he owed to the Great Parent of the universe, Nimrod gave himself up to all manner of debauchery; and while he continued to trample upon the rights of his fellow-creatures, he proceeded to the highest degree of impiety, namely, to set up idols in temples which he had built, and even to worship the works of his own hands.
From what we shall learn in the course of this work, it will appear that the most ancient species of idolatry was that of worshipping the sun and moon.
This idolatry was founded on a mistaken notion of gratitude, which, instead of ascending up to the Supreme Being, stopped short at the veil which both covered and discovered him. Had those idolaters considered things in a proper manner, they would have been able to distinguish between the great God himself and such of his works as point out his communicable attributes.
Men have, in all ages, been convinced of the necessity of an intercourse between God and themselves ; and the adoration of God supposes him to be attentive to men's desires, and, consistent with his perfections, capable of complying with them. But the distance of the sun and moon is an obstacle to this intercourse. Therefore foolish and inconsiderate men endeavoured to remedy this inconvenience by laying their hands on their mouths, and then lifting them up to their false gods, in order to testify that they would be glad to unite themselves to them, notwithstanding their being so far separated. We have a striking instance of this in the book of Job, which, properly attended to, will throw a considerable light on ancient
pagan idolatry. Job was a native of the confines of Assyria, and being one of those who believed in the true God, says, in his own vindication, “ If I beheld the sun while it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand,” &c.—Job xxxi. 26, 27.
This was a solemn oath, and the ceremony performed in the following manner : The
person who stood before his accusers, or before the judge's tribunal, where he was tried, bowed his head and kissed his hand three times, and looking up to the sun, invoked him as an almighty being, to take the highest vengeance upon him if he uttered a falsehood.
As the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies were the first objects of worship among the Assyrians, so, in consistency with the corruption of human nature, they adored the fire as their substitute; and that sort of adoration was common among the Assyrians and Chaldeans, as will appear from the following passage in Eusebius, who lived in the fourth century.
“Ur, which signifies fire, was the idol they worshipped ; and as fire will, in general, consume everything thrown into it, so the Assyriaus published abroad that the gods of other nations could not stand before theirs. Many experiments were tried, and vast numbers of idols were brought from foreign parts ; but they being of wood, the all-devouring god Ur, or fire, consumed them. At last an Egyptian priest found out the art to destroy the reputation of this mighty idol, which had so long been the terror of distant nations. He caused the figure of an idol to be made of porous earth, and the belly of it was filled with water. On each