XVIII. THE FEEDING OF THE FIVE THOUSAND
My next instance of coincidence without design is taken from the account of certain circumstances attending the feeding of the five thousand. And here, again, be it remarked, an indication of veracity is found, as formerly, where the subject of the narrative is a miracle.
In the sixth chapter of St. Mark we are told, that Jesus said to his disciples, “come ye yourselves apart into a desert place” (it was there where the miracle was wrought), “and rest a while; for there were many,” adds the Evangelist, by way of accounting for this temporary seclusion, “coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” How it happened that so many were coming and going through Capernaum at that time, above all others, this Evangelist does not give us the slightest hint; neither how it came to pass that, by retiring for a while, Jesus and his disciples would escape the inconvenience. Turn we, then, to the parallel passage in St. John, and there we shall find the matter explained at once, though certainly this explanation could never have been given with a reference to the very casual expression of St. Mark. In St. John we do not meet with one word about Jesus retiring for a while into the desert, for the purpose of being apart, or that He would have been put to any inconvenience by staying at Capernaum, but we are told (what perfectly agrees with these two circumstances), “that the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh, ” 6:4. Hence, then, the “coming and going” through Capernaum was so unusually great, and hence, if Jesus and his disciples rested in the desert “a while,” the crowd, which was pressing towards Jerusalem from every part of the country, would have subsided, and drawn off to the capital. For it may be observed that the desert place being at some distance from Capernaum, through which city the great road lay from the north to Jerusalem, the multitude could not follow Jesus there without some inconvenience and delay.
The confusion which prevailed throughout the Holy Land at this great festival we may easily imagine, when we read in Josephus [Bel. Jud. vi. 9. § 3.] , that, for the satisfaction of Nero, his officer, Cestius, on one occasion, endeavoured to reckon up the number of those who shared in the national rite at Jerusalem. By counting the victims sacrificed, and allowing a company of ten to each victim, he found that nearly two millions six hundred thousand souls were present; and it may be observed, that this method of calculation would not include the many persons who must have been disqualified from actually partaking of the sacrifice, by the places of their birth and the various causes of uncleanness.
I cannot forbear remarking another incident in the transaction we are now considering, in itself a trifle, but not, perhaps, on that account, less fit for corroborating the history. We read in St. John, that when Jesus had reached this desert place, He “lifted up his eyes and saw a great multitude come unto him, and he said unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?” (6:5.) Why should this question have been directed to Philip in particular? If we had the Gospel of St. John and not the other Gospels, we should see no peculiar propriety in this choice, and should probably assign it to accident. If we had the other Gospels, and not that of St. John, we should not be put upon the inquiry, for they make no mention of the question having been addressed expressly to Philip. But, by comparing St. Luke with St. John, we discover the reason at once. By St. Luke, and by him alone, we are informed, that the desert place where the miracle was wrought “was belonging to Bethsaida.” (9:10.) By St. John we are informed, (though not in the passage where he relates the miracle, which is worthy of remark, but in another chapter altogether independent of it, ch. 1:44,) that “Philip was of Bethsaida.” To whom, then, could the question have been directed so properly as to him, who, being of the immediate neighbourhood, was the most likely to know where bread was to be bought? Here again, then, I maintain, we have strong indications of veracity in the case of a miracle itself; and I leave it to others, who may have ingenuity and inclination for the task, to weed out the falsehood of the miracle from the manifest reality of the circumstances which attend it, and to separate fiction from fact, which is in the very closest combination with it.