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Having, therefore, entered on a civil war, and sent forward his generals and forces into Italy, he himself, in the meantime, passed over to Alexandria, to obtain possession of the key of Egypt.1 Here having entered alone, without attendants, the temple of Serapis, to take the auspices respecting the establishment of his power, and having done his utmost to propitiate the deity, upon turning round, [his freedman] Basilides2 appeared before him, and seemed to offer him the sacred leaves, chaplets, and cakes, according to the usage of the place, although no one had admitted him, and he had long laboured under a muscular debility, which would hardly have allowed him to walk into the temple; besides which, it was certain that at the very time he was far away. Immeiately after this, arrived letters with intelligence that Vitellius's troops had been defeated at Cremona, and he himself slain at Rome. Vespasian, the new emperor, having been raised unexpectedly from a low estate, wanted something which might clothe him with divine majesty and authority. This, likewise, was now added. A poor man who was blind, and another who was lame, came both together before him, when he was seated on the tribunal, imploring him to heal them,3 and saying that they were admonished in a dream by the god Serapis to seek his aid, who assured them that he would restore sight to the one by anointing his eyes with his spittle, and give strength to the leg of the other, if he vouchsafed but to touch it with his heel. At first he could scarcely believe that the thing would any how succeed, and therefore hesitated to venture on making the experiment. At length, however, by the advice of his friends, he made the attempt publicly, in the presence of the assembled multitudes, and it was crowned with success in both cases.4 About the same time, at Tegea in Arcadia, by the direction of some soothsayers, several vessels of ancient workmanship were dug out of a consecrated place, on which there was an effigy resembling Vespasian.
2 Tacitus describes Basilides as a man of rank among the Egyptians, and he appears also to have been a priest, as we find him officiating at Mount Carmel, c. v. This is so incompatible with his being a Roman freedman, that commentators concur in supposing that the word "libertus," although found in all the copies now extant, has crept into the text by some inadvertence of an early transcriber. Basilides appears, like Philo Judaeus, who lived about the same period, to have been half-Greek, half-Jew, and to have belonged to the celebrated Platonic school of Alexandria.
3 Tacitus informs us that Vespasian himself believed Basilides to have been at this time not only in an infirm state of health, but at the distance of several days' journey from Alexandria. But (for his greater satisfaction) he strictly examined the priests whether Basilides had entered the temple on that day: he made inquiries of all he met, whether he had been seen in the city; nay, further, he dispatched messengers on horseback, who ascertained that at the time specified, Basilides was more than eighty miles from Alexandria. Then Vespasian comprehended that the appearance of Basilides, and the answer to his prayers given through him, were by divine interposition. Tacit. Hist. iv. 82. 2.
4 The account given by Tacitus of the miracles of Vespasian is fuller than that of Suetonius, but does not materially vary in the details, except that, in his version of the story, he describes the impotent man to be lame in the hand, instead of the leg or the knee, and adds an important circumstance in the case of the blind man, that he was "notus tabe occulorum," notorious for the disease in his eyes. He also winds up the narrative with the following statement: "They who were present, relate both these cures, even at this time, when there is nothing to be gained by lying." Both the historians lived within a few years of the occurrence, but their works were not published until advanced periods of their lives. The closing remark of Tacitus seems to indicate that, at least, he did not entirely discredit the account; and as for Suetonius, his pages are as full of prodigies of all descriptions, related apparently in all good faith, as a monkish chronicle of the Middle Ages. The story has the more interest, as it is one of the examples of successful imposture, selected by Hume in his Essay on Miracles; with the reply to which by Paley, in his Evidences of Christianity, most readers are familiar. The commentators on Suetonius agree with Paley in considering the whole affair as a juggle between the priests, the patients, and, probably, the emperor. But what will, perhaps, strike the reader as most remarkable, is the singular coincidence of the story with the accounts given of several of the miracles of Christ; whence it has been supposed that the scene was planned in imitation of them. It did not fall within the scope of Dr. Paley's argument to advert to this; and our own brief illustration must be strictly confined within the limits of historical disquisition. Adhering to this principle, we may point out that if the idea of plagiarism be accepted, it receives some confirmation from the incident related by our author in a preceding paragraph, forming, it may be considered, another scene of the same drama, where we find Basilides appearing to Vespasian in the temple of Serapis, under circumstances which cannot fail to remind us of Christ's suddenly standing in the midst of his disciples, "when the doors were shut." This incident, also, has very much the appearance of a parody on the evangelical history. But if the striking similarity of the two narratives be thus accounted for, it is remarkable that while the priests of Alexandria, or, perhaps, Vespasian himself from his residence in Judaea, were in possession of such exact details of two of Christ's miracles -- if not of a third striking incident in his history -- we should find not the most distant allusion in the works of such cotemporary writers as Tacitus and Suetonius, to any one of the still more stupendous occurrences which had recently taken place in a part of the world with which the Romans had now very intimate relations. The character of these authors induces us to hesitate in adopting the notion, that either contempt or disbelief would have led them to pass over such events, as altogether unworthy of notice; and the only other inference from their silence is, that they had never heard of them. But as this can scarcely be reconciled with the plagiarism attributed to Vespasian or the Egyptian priests, it is safer to conclude that the coincidence, however singular, was merely fortuitous. It may be added that Spartianus, who wrote the lives of Adrian and succeeding emperors, gives an account of a similar miracle performed by that prince in healing a blind man.
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