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did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue;" but they actually excommunicated the man who was born blind, and whose sight was restored by the word of Jesus. (John ix.) They had power also to bind men, and to keep them in custody; and their council could summon witnesses, take examinations, and, in the case of capital offenders, convey them before the Roman governors, who were the constituted judges in cases of this kind. The administration of their sacred rites and ceremonies was committed, as before, to the High Priest and Sanhedrim; the former of whom had the superintendence of the other priests and Levites. The form of external worship, prescribed by the Mosaic law, was still continued in the temple at Jerusalem; and a vast concourse of people uniformly assembled, at the stated seasons, for celebrating their solemn festivals. But many learned writers have observed, that even in the service of the temple, various ceremonies and observances, derived from the religious worship of the heathens, had been introduced, and blended with those of divine appointment. Nor was this all. Even the duties enforced by the decalogue were explained away, by a frivolous and immoral casuistry.
But the remains of liberty and happiness, which the Romans left to the Jews, were effectually taken from the great body of the people, by their own rulers. The leaders of the people were, according to Josephus, profligate wretches, who purchased their places by bribes, or other acts of iniquity; and maintained their ill-acquired authority, by the most abominable crimes.
The national council, or Sanbedrim, was composed of men of different religious sects, who had imbibed all the prejudices of party, and were more intent upon the gratification of private pique, or ambition, than the advancement of religion, or the promotion of the public welfare. A similar degree of depravity prevailed among the inferior ministers of religion. The common people, instigated by the bad examples of their superiors, plunged into every kind of iniquity; and by their frequent seditions, robberies, and murders, armed against them both the justice of God and the vengeance of man.
But notwithstanding the general corruption of the Hebrew nation, at the time of our Saviour's appearance, there still remained splendid examples of piety and virtue.
Among these we find Zacharias and Elizabeth, the aged Simeon, Anna the prophetess, and others, whose names are recorded with honor in the New Testament, all of whom placed implicit confidence in the prophecies of God, and waited with devout expectation for the redemption of Israel. At the time of our Saviour's advent, the great body of the Jewish nation were earnestly expecting their promised Messiah ; but they looked not for a spiritual teacher, but a temporal monarch, who would free them from the Roman yoke, aggrandize their nation, render Jerusalem the metropolis of the world, and after subduing all their enemies, commence a glorious reign of peace and prosperity.
An account of the various religious sects and parties, which existed among the Hebrew nation at the time when the Son of God was born, and during his ministry, will be the subject of another letter.
Of the various religious Sects which flourished
in Palestine during the time of our Lord's Ministry.
MY DEAR NIECES,
When the Son of God appeared upon earth, various religious sects prevailed in Palestine; and the hatred which subsisted between them, augmented the calamities of the Hebrew nation.
Of the origin of the Samaritans, who may be regarded, in some sort, as a Jewish sect, we find an account in 2 Kings, chapter xvii. the 24th and following verses. After the ten tribes who inhabited Samaria were carried into captivity, about 720 years before Christ, the king of Assyria repeopled the country with heathen colonies. These mixed with the remains of the former inhabitants. They brought with them their pagan idolatries ; but apprehending that they had been exposed to the vengeance of the God of Israel, whom they regarded as the tutelary god of the land, on account of their neglect of him, they, under the direction of a Hebrew priest who was sent to them, joined his worship with that of their former divinities. At a subsequent period they gave up their idolatry, and worshipped Jehovah alone. They did not, however, resort to the temple at Jerusalem ; but built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim. It was with reference to this, that the Samaritan woman said to our Savionr: “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye [Jews] say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
From this and from other causes there was the greatest enmity between them and the proper Jews, to which there are frequent references in the Gospels. They received none of the other books of the Old Testament, except the Pentateuch, or the five first books of Moses.
The Pharisees were the most numerous and powerful of the proper Jewish sects. By their superior strictness in ritual observances, and their apparent zeal for religion, they ob