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On the Sentiments entertained with respect to the Origin of Evil, the Existence of Spiritual Beings, their Revolt from Obedience, the Fall and gradual Corruption of Men.
THE opinions which were entertained by the ancients concerning the origin of moral evil were various *.
The operation of some injurious principle vitiating the nature of man, and perverting his moral views, could not be disputed; and the influence of a malignant power seemed to have introduced disorder even in the first appointments of Providence, and to have counteracted the beneficial tendency of God's ordinances.
Popular convictions every where prevailed of the existence of some beings of the higher
* Plutarch de Isid, et Osirid,
order, who had revolted from their subjection to the heavenly Power which presided over the universe; and upon them were raised many fabulous stories.
It is probable that these convictions were originally founded on the circumstances referred to in Scripture with respect to Satan and his angels, as powerful but malevolent beings, who having first seduced Adam from his obedience, incessantly laboured to deceive, corrupt, and destroy his descendants *. The notion of the Magi of Plutarch, and of the Manicheans, concerning two independent principles, acting in opposition to each other, was also founded on the real circumstances of the apostacy of angels, and of their interference and influence in the affairs of men.
The fictions of Indian mythology with regard to contending powers, and their subordinate ministers, benevolent and malignant, were erected on the same basis of truth; and the Grecian and Roman accounts of the battles of the Giants against Jupiter, were perhaps relations built on the corruptions of tradition on this point.
* 2 Chron. xviii, 20, Job i. 6. Zech, iii, i.
In contemplating the wild fancies, which are spread over the surface of the ancient world, we behold many grotesque representations, which, like the constellations on the celestial globe, exhibit images which serve only to direct us to the stars for which we seek. The continued malignity of those spiritual beings, who had fallen from “their "high estate," and who were still possessed of powers far above those which men enjoy in their limited sphere of action, instigated them to support the delusions and superstitions of antiquity, by assisting the arts of those who misled mankind through their deceptions, by prompting divination, possessing the persons, and aggravating the afflictions and despondence of men.
It is scarcely possible to read the accounts of the wonders performed by the magicians, who opposed Moses with their enchantments*, or the responses of the Pagan oracles, (which however ambiguous in general, seem sometimes to have displayed more than mortal discernment,) and not to be convinced that the Almighty allowed these invisible
* Exod. vii. 11. 22. viii. 18, 19. See also Rev. xvi. 5-14.
beings to shew great signs and wonders *, and to deceive and lead captive those who in their infatuated wickedness served them.
The original temptation, by which they drew our first parents from their duty, and led them to transgress the only prohibition. which God had imposed, is described in the first pages of Scripture; and it is repeated, under much disguise, in many fables of classical mythology.
Origen considers the allegorical relations furnished by Plato †, with respect to Porus tempted by Penia to sin when intoxicated in the garden of Jove, as a disfigured history of the fall of man in paradise. It seems to have been blended with the story of Lot and his daughters. Plato might have acquired in Egypt the knowledge of the original circumstances of the fall, and have produced them, under the veil of allegory, that he might not offend the Greeks by a direct extract from the Jewish Scriptures+. The heathen notions with respect to the Elysian fields, the garden of Adonis, and that of Hesperides, in which the fruit was watched
* Matt. xxiv. 24.
+ Συμπόσιον, ή περὶ ἔρωτος.
Cont. Cels. lib. iv. p. 532. Edit. Benedict.
by a serpent, was probably borrowed from the sacred accounts, or from traditional reports with respect to paradise.
The particular circumstances also of the leader of the evil spirits having envied man's happiness, and by disguising himself under the form of a serpent, occasioned his ejection from paradise*, was figured out in other ac
The worship established towards the evil spirit by his contrivance, sometimes under the very appearance in which he seduced our first parents, is to be found among the Phonicians and Egyptians.
The general notion of the serpent as a mysterious symbol annexed to the Heathendeities, and particularly assigned to Æsculapius, the god of healing, might have been suggested by perverted representations of the agency of the fallen spirit, who assumed the form of a serpent; or perhaps by some traditional reports of the miraculous effects produced by looking on the brazen serpent, which Moses erected by divine command in the wilderness; and the invocation of Eve in the Bacchanalian orgies, (with the pro
* Casaubon's Origin of Temporal Evils. Plut. de Isid. et Osirid. p. 261.