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Nazareth Revisited


Christ's Place in History.

Before entering upon biographical particulars, it seems necessary to take a general view of Christ's position in history. It has become the habit among the fashionable thinkers of the world to regard it as "a development." They look at the state of the world before Christ appeared, and more particularly the state of the Jews; and profess to find in these a force or bias at work which, on natural principles, brought itself to a focus in the family of Joseph, and so produced that marvel of marvels, "the man Christ Jesus."

There is no arrogance in maintaining that this is a groundless view. The men who advance it are forced into a false position by their initial assumption that there can be no departure from the fixed and passive operations of nature as we see them. They find the Christ of the New Testament a case of continuous departure from these operations; they therefore pronounce him impossible. They find Christ a fact in history, but their principles compel them to refuse the only history that reasonably accounts for it, and so they east about for one that is in harmony with their own thoughts. They cannot remove Christ from history; they try to explain him, and, naturally, their explanations take the form of their own gratuitous thoughts. They reason gradiloquently on "tendencies." A mechanical age produces great engineers: a military age produces great soldiers: an art-loving age, great painters. So a religious age, argue they, produced the loftiest religionist the world has ever seen. Plausible this, but fallacious, when looked into -- just plausible enough to carry off superficial thinkers, but manifestly enough fallacious to protect those acquainted with and discerning of the subject from being victimised.

It is fallacious on two heads, first, as regards the nature of the age that witnessed the birth of Christ, and, second, as regards the relation between age-production and those produced. Taking the second point first: a man that really is the natural product of the age in which he lives, exhibits and exemplifies in an efficient form the principles and capacities already active before his time. He does not add to them, or go against them. The age and the man are one. The principles in the one are found in the other. A Stephenson embodies the mechanical science existing independently of him. A Napoleon expertly applies military principles universally in vogue before he was born. A Raphael reflects for you the artistic appreciations cultivated for generations before him.

But Christ -- there is nothing in common between him and the age in which he was born, or any other age, before or since. Whether we take character, principles, aims, views, capacities, deportment, or achievements, he stands, not only at a measureless altitude above, but absolutely disconnected from the common ways and tendencies of men.

The best proof of this will be found in the history of his life as exhibited in the apostolic narratives in what are known as "the gospels" -- of which this book aims to be but a modernised reflection. He had nothing in common with men beyond the infirmity of a mortal nature derived through his mother, from a common stock. His tastes lay where the human mind has no affinity. His intellectual interest -- his mental affection -- intensely centred on God, from whom man is naturally alien (Rom. viii. 7). Even at twelve years of age, he showed this powerful bias which distinguished him from all men: "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business" (Luke ii. 49); and "always" it is his own testimony concerning himself, "he did those things that were pleasing to the Father" (Jno. viii. 29). His case, with reference to his own age, is only fitly classified in his own language; "Ye are from beneath: I am from above; ye are of this world: I am not of this world" (Jno. viii. 23).

See how inconsistent the facts of the case are, with the philosophic theory which would make Christ the product of a particular epoch. The age that witnessed the birth of Christ was the most unpromising of all ages, in a moral sense, of any high moral development on natural principles. The Gentile world under Roman ascendancy was sunk in the grossest immoralities of Paganism, which the revelations of Pompeii may illustrate; and as for the condition of the Jews, it was one of self-conceited barrenness and formalism, which has not been exceeded by any recorded experience of that people. The condition of the Jews is more important to be considered than the condition of the Gentile nations, as it was in the midst of the Jews that Jesus was born, and of their common race and stock in the line of David.

Christ's own portraiture of Israel's state is vigorous, brief and decisive. Speaking generally, he said "This is an evil generation" (Luke xi. 29). Speaking particularly, he said "In them, is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah" (Matt. xiii. 14). We turn to the prophecy and find such expressions as "heart waxed gross," "ears dull of hearing," "eyes closed." In another and parallel prophecy, this is what we read: "Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid." Again, "they are drunken, but not with wine: they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes" (Matt. xiii. 14, 15: Isaiah xxix. 13, 14; 9, 10). This is the divine definition of Israel's condition at the time of Christ's appearing. The truth of the definition is reflected in the Rabbinical writings of that and subsequent times. The grave discussion of trifles, conducted illogically, and distorted with childish legend, impresses the mind with a sense of mental paralysis and nightmare. There is much boast of Hillel and Philo: it is astonishing how little ground for boast appears in the reading.

"Dry," indeed, was "the ground" in which the root of Jesse quickened and sprang in the beginning of the first century -- as Isaiah had foretold -- "A root out of a dry ground" (Isa. liii. 2). If there had not been a divine planting in the dry ground, no such "tender plant" could have shot forth in the cracked and arid soil. It had been dry and barren for generations. Since the last words of inspiration by Malachi, Israel had slowly settled into that shallow half-clever state of self-conceit and disobedience in which Jesus found them -- punctilious as to trifles, but reprobate to the "weightier matters of the law:" on the best of terms with themselves, yet by their insubordination towards the highest requirements of the law, piling up the divine anger in a slow-gathering, terrible storm that descended shortly afterwards and swept them all away. Even Malachi's words show them well advanced in spiritual decomposition in his days. "Who is there among you that would shut the doors (of the temple) for nought? neither do ye kindle a fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord, neither will I accept an offering at your hand" (Mal. i. 10; see also 12, 13; ii. 8,9, 17; iii. 7, 9).

Such an "age" could have nothing to do with the production of Christ. It was much more likely to produce monsters like the John and Simon who figured so flaringly at the siege of Jerusalem. Many such monsters it did produce, as Josephus's works attest, answering to Paul's portraiture, "filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful" (Rom. i 29). Christ it could not produce, and did not produce. Christ was the work of God direct. He had nothing in common with "the age." He was a man apart from that age and all other ages. The testimony of his enemies will be found, on the strictest investigation, to be absolutely correct: "Never man spake like this man." Had the "age" produced him, there would have been more than one of him, and he would have reflected the characteristics of the age. There was only one of him, and he was as unlike the "age" as possible. There never was his like before or since. He will not classify thus. He will only fit the source he claims: "I proceeded forth and came from God" (Jno. viii. 42).

It is vain for the critics to explain him in any other way. He cannot be explained on any hypothesis but his own: and this hypothesis does not rest upon his own ipse dixit merely. It is supported and attested and proved in a variety of ways. He was careful to emphasise this. He allowed that he gave evidence on his own behalf, but pointed out that his testimony was confirmed externally. He admitted if it were not so, his self-testimony was not entitled to belief: "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me, and I know that his witness is true. Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.... But I have greater witness than that of John; the works which the father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me.... If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works" (Jno. vi. 31-33, 36; x. 37).

The nature of the "works" he pointedly defined when John's wavering message came from prison: "Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?... Then Jesus answering, said unto them (John's messengers), Go your way and tell John what things ye have seen and heard, how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised" (Luke vii. 20-22). These were "works" which certainly no man can do. Their significance, and even their truth, has been frittered out of public conviction through the sheer effect of perseverance on the part of hostile criticism. But the facts remain, after all their refinements; and the verdict of common sense is well formulated by Nicodemus: "We know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (Jno. iii. 2). Had Nicodemus had the fact of Christ's resurrection before him at this time, he would have felt how immeasurably beyond question his whole conclusion had been placed; for if there is one thing that all men would be agreed in allowing, it is that a dead man has no power to bring himself to life again.

The attempt to explain Christ on any principle but the one furnished in the Bible narrative must be a failure on other grounds. He is part of a history extending over thousands of years. He is not an isolated phenomenon: he is built into the Bible as a whole. The bulk of the Bible existed before he appeared, and it bears upon him in a way necessitating that view of himself which he promulgated. He is part of a structure, apart from which he cannot be understood. Though the brightest figure in Israel's history, he is but the culmination of that history, which is the history of a work which God has been doing from the beginning; and He must be looked at in connection with that work. We can only truly ascend to the Christ of the Bible by the gradually rising level of the progressive work it records.

The modern habit of detaching him from the Old Testament scheme of things creates difficulties that do not belong to the subject itself. The theologian and the Rationalist both fall into this mistake, each in a different way. The theologian brings to the subject a philosophy that not only enables him to dispense, but necessitates his dispensing with Jewish history and hopes in the ages before Christ came, and compels him to adopt views and theories of Christ's work that virtually transform him into another Christ than that exhibited in the Apostolic narrative. The Rationalist, on the other hand, perceiving that prophecy involves divinity, puts forth his whole strength in the endeavour to show that there has been no prophecy: that Christ was not predicted or foreseen: that he came as a happy accident, to which events and utterances that went before him were ingeniously accommodated.

Both views are inconsistent with the elementary facts of the case. The theologian we may dismiss in a word as the product of an organised corruption of apostolic truth: which began in the apostolic age (2 Thes. ii. 7; 1 Jno. ii. 18, 19), which it was predicted would obtain complete ascendancy (2 Tim. iv. 4), and which became finally triumphant in Christendom in the shape of Roman Ecclesiasticism, under whose baleful shadow the most elementary principles of revealed truth perished from the recognised orthodox Christian community. The man who regards immortality as the attribute of human nature, and who thinks it is in a disembodied state, that man becomes the subject of judicial retribution for good or evil: -- such a man is not likely to find any connection with Christ in writings that deal only with bodily death and resurrection, and the future settlement of the earth on the basis of the covenants made with the fathers of the Israelitish nation, and amplified in the writings of the prophets that God sent to them.

The question introduced by the Rationalist is at once more vital and more difficult to the general run of mankind. At the same time it is more capable of a decisive settlement. The Rationalist says the Old Testament has nothing to do with Christ, because Christ has nothing to do with God except in the passive sense in which all men have to do with Him, which, practically, is no sense at all, for if God in nature is the only accessible form of God, we may as well cease to talk of God as distinct from nature. On the Rationalist hypothesis, there is nothing but nature, and, therefore, Christ had no more to do with God than tigers and elephants and worms; in which case, we have no hope: for nature gives no hope of life to come for the individual, which is exactly what is promised and pledged in Christ.

But Rationalism is not rational. It ignores facts that cannot be set aside. There is an ingredient in the situation that Rationalism does not take into account, and that is, the resurrection of Christ, which Christ himself plainly predicted, and the occurrence of which was the very essence of the testimony given by the apostles after the crucifixion. A dead man cannot raise himself, and if Christ rose, God raised him, and, therefore, endorsed him.

How much, for us moderns, depends upon this question of the resurrection of Christ. It cannot be exaggerated in its importance. Establish it, and there is an end of all dispute or doubt. Its establishment is a process of logical demonstration. In this it may seem to have a weak foundation: but it is the foundation on which the bulk of human convictions rest. A logical demonstration, if truly logical, is of immense practical power where there is a capacity to perceive it. The power to act out a conviction logically is almost universal: but the power to discern the ground of conviction is unfortunately scarce, while the force of mere feeling of all kinds is great. Hence, the demonstration of the resurrection of Christ, though obvious, commends itself only to the few. This is not the place for the demonstration. It is exhibited in some measure in The Trial, a work by the present writer, intended to exhibit the correctness of Christ's resurrection in a popular and entertaining way. We refer to it as indicating where the citadel of faith lies. It is spending strength in vain to fight the assaults of Rationalism in the open. The citadel commands the whole position. Entrenched here, faith is impregnable. All attempts to get rid of the evidence of Christ's resurrection have, and ever must be, complete failures when the evidence is completely marshalled.

Settle the resurrection of Christ, and you settle the question of whether the Old Testament prophecy had any reference to Christ, for the risen Christ taught that it had. After his resurrection he said, "These are the words that I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms CONCERNING ME" (Luke xxiv. 44). Then opened he their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, "Thus it is written and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, &c." "Beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures THE THINGS CONCERNING HIMSELF." (Ib. 27).

These sayings, uttered after his resurrection, refer us back to things he had said on the same subject while yet alive, before his crucifixion. Going back to these, we find that he made frequent allusion to the fact that he was contemplated in the written utterances of the prophets from the days of Moses downwards. Reading a passage from Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth on one occasion, he said, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke iv. 21). Recommending the Jews to "search the Scriptures" of the Old Testament, he said "They are they that TESTIFY OF ME" (John v. 39). Communing sorrowfully with his disciples on the very eve of his sufferings, he said, "This that is written must yet be accomplished IN ME, 'and he was reckoned amongst the transgressors' " (Luke xxii. 37). In his public teaching, combatting the popular idea that he was putting himself in competition with Moses and the prophets, he said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I am not come to destroy but TO FULFIL" (Matt. v. 17). Chiding the Pharisees for putting forward Moses as a reason for their rejection of him, he said, "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for HE WROTE OF ME" (Jno. v. 46). Discussing for a moment the hypothesis of his consenting to evade the sufferings appointed for him, he said, "How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled that THUS IT MUST BE" (Matt. xxvi. 54). There are other allusions of the same sort. They show that Christ's view was that the prophets foreshadowed him; and if he rose from the dead, his view must prevail.

The matter establishes itself in another way: If Christ rose from the dead, Christ necessarily fulfilled the promise he made to his disciples, -- that he should afterwards send upon them the spirit of God, who should guide them into all truth (Jno. xiv. 26 : xvi. 13), and who should put words into their mouths when brought before governors and kings (Matt. x. 19, 20). That this promise was fulfilled is a matter of record which cannot be denied (Acts ii. 1-4: v. 32). Consequently in the utterances of the disciples, we have words equally reliable to those of Christ, and on this subject, those utterances are plain beyond all ambiguity. All of them recognise that Christ was contemplated in the writings of the prophets. Take Peter, who was made the official mouthpiece of the apostolic band: "All the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days" (Acts iii. 24). In his letter (1 Pet. i. 10) he speaks of the prophets "searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, did signify when it testified beforehand the sufferings of christ and the glory that should follow." Paul, of equal or greater eminence as an apostle says, "To him (Christ) give all the prophets witness" (Acts x. 43). He also said to a Jewish audience in the provinces, in reference to the successful opposition of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to the claims of Christ, "Because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath Day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him" (Acts xiii. 27). Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, in celebrating the birth of Christ, said, "The Lord God of Israel ... hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began" (Luke i. 70).

There are many such like expressions in the apostolic writings. The case could not be made stronger by further quotation. It is plain that if we are to be guided by Christ and the apostles, we may dismiss the doubts raised by modern criticism as merely so much elegant mystification in which the writers have involved themselves and others, through the disturbing power of initial fallacies. The question of whether we should be guided by Christ and the apostles, is settled by the fact of Christ's resurrection and the effusion of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Therefore, we may, without reservation, accept it as an established truth, that the appearance of Christ 1800 years ago, was the fulfilment of what had been foretold by the prophets under the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

One step more, and we bring this chapter to a conclusion. In the estimation of those acquainted with the Scriptures of Moses and the prophets, it must ever be a self-evident proposition that those Scriptures foreshew the appearing of the Messiah (Hebrew) or Christ (Greek). The predictions of him are not vague or uncertain. If it merely rested on the statement made in the garden of Eden at the crisis of human transgression, there might be doubt, though even then the indication would be felt by reflective minds to be strong: "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." But it does not rest on this. There are plain and positive statements that cannot by unsophisticated candour be understood in any other way than as foretelling the appearance in Israel of a God-given leader, teacher and King. Such is the statement of Moses: "The Lord said unto me ... I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him" (Deut. xviii, 17, 18). Such also is the prophecy of Balaam: "I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Num. xxiv. 17). The words of Jacob cannot otherwise be reasonably understood: "The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah nor a law-giver from between his feet until Shiloh come: and unto him shall the gathering of the people be" (Gen. xlix. 10).

And what else is to be understood of the covenant made with David? (2 Sam. vii). Speaking now from the hostile critic point of view, even if it referred to Solomon, it was as much a prophecy as if it referred to Christ; and if prophecy was there at all, then the obligation arises to receive every application of the covenant that the spirit of prophecy in David and in the apostles may indicate. In this way, the voice of criticism is silenced: for the Spirit of God applies this covenant to Christ, both by David and by Peter. David in his "last words" which he attributes to the Spirit of God (2 Sam. xxiii. 2) alleges the substance of this covenant to contain "all his salvation and all his desire" (see verse 5); and he associates its realisation with a just king "ruling over men," the advent of whose day he compares to the dawn of a cloudless morning. Peter, speaking still more plainly after the promised effusion of the Holy spirit, says that David knew that God had covenanted "to raise up Christ to sit upon his throne" (Acts ii. 29). By these two, the truth is established that Christ was the king promised in the covenant that God made with David.

When we look at the other prophets -- the books bound together as a prophetic collection from Isaiah to Malachi -- it is like looking at a starry galaxy of glory, Christ shines in them all: not merely his light, but he himself appears in all their visions -- palpably as a person -- as palpably as Jesus of Nazareth appears in the apostolic narratives. A hurried sample or two from each will best illustrate this:

christ in the prophets.

In Isaiah, "A King shall reign in righteousness" (xxxii. 1). "The Spirit of God shall rest upon him ... and shall make him of quick understanding ... with righteousness shall he judge the poor" (xi. 1-:3, 4). "Of the increase of his government and peace, there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and his kingdom" (ix. 7). "Behold my servant ... I have put my Spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles ... the isles shall wait for his law" (xlii. 1-4). But first, "he is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (liii. 3).

In Jeremiah, "a King (righteously branched from David) shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth" (xxiii. 5). "I will cause him to draw near and he shall approach unto me" (xxx. 21). "He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land," in the days when "God shall perform the good thing promised to Israel" (xxxiii. 14, 15).

In Ezekiel, the throne of David shall be "no more until he come whose right it is (xxi. 27). Israel shall then be one nation on the mountains of Israel, "and one King shall be King to them all" (xxxvii. 22).

In Daniel, a prophetic vision is seen in which "one like the Son of Man" appears and receives "a kingdom, glory, and dominion, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve and obey him" (vii. 13, 14). But first, Messiah, the Prince, should be cut off, and punitive desolation overwhelm Jerusalem and the temple, and overspread the Holy Land (ix. 26).

In Hosea, the children of Israel, after many days of kingless wandering among the nations, should return and have one head -- even a divine head. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself: in me is thine help. I will be thy King" (xiii. 9, 10; i. 11; iii. 4, 5).

In Joel when the captivity of Judah returns, war is proclaimed against the Gentiles; Jehovah's mighty ones descend, by whom Jehovah thereafter dwells in Zion. "Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and no stranger shall pass through her any more" (iii. 1, 9-12; 17).

In Amos, 'I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof (which involves the re-establishment of the throne in a personal occupant) ... and I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel ... and I will plant them in their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land" (ix. 11-15)

In Obadiah, "Upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and saviours shall come up on Mount Zion ... and the Kingdom shall be the Lord's" (21).

In Jonah there is no direct allusion: it is the only exception.

In Micah he was to be born in Bethlehem: smitten on the cheek: Israel scattered: but at the last "this man" should be the vanquisher of the enemy, the establisher of peace, judge among the nations, and "great to the end of the earth" (v. 2, 13, 4-6; iv. 3).

In Nahum, he is saluted on the mountains as one that bringeth good things, consequent on whose appearance the enemy should be utterly cut off, and Judah resume the observance of her holy feasts (i. 15).

In Habakkuk, God goes forth for salvation with His anointed (Christ), "and the earth shall be filled, with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (iii. 13, ii. 14).

In Zephaniah, a day is exhibited when Israel shall be no more haughty, nor do iniquity. "In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, fear thou not ... the King of Israel, the Lord, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more" (iii. 11, 13, 16, 15).

In Haggai, "the desire of all nations shall come and I will fill this house with glory ... I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen" (ii. 7, 22).

In Zechariah, "I will bring forth my servant, the BRANCH ... He shall sit and rule upon his throne ... Thy King (O Jerusalem) cometh unto thee, just and having salvation ... he shall speak peace to the heathen and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea ... The Lord shall be King over all the earth" (iii. 8; vi. 13; ix. 9, 10; xiv. 9).

In Malachi, "The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant ... Behold he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming?... Unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness rise with healing in his beams." (iii. 1, 2; iv. 2).

If these statements do not foretell the appearing of the Messiah, it is difficult to imagine how language could be framed to foretell it. In truth, the question is beyond controversy. It never could have been raised but for the necessity created by a false theory of Christ. The robust sense of scientific intelligence will always decide (against the artificial refinements of mercurial and invertebrate idealism -- dreamy, speculative and illogical) that explain it how it may, the prophets foretold the appearing of Christ: and the same intelligence applied to the life of Christ, must necessarily come to the conclusion expressed in the words of Philip to Nathanael, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write" (Jno. i. 45).

Moses wrote of Christ in a way not yet hinted at. The whole economy of divine service established by his hand in the midst of Israel, was a prophetic allegory of him. This we have on the authority of Paul, who was guided by the Holy Spirit; and the statement which he makes is borne out by the results of the study of Moses from this point of view. The allegory is a complete and speaking one.

Let the reflecting reader consider how completely the fact of this continuous and extended prophecy of Christ, over so long a time, of itself establishes the divinity of Christ. If, in addition to this, he obtains a full view of Christ himself, as displayed in the apostolic narratives, and an adequate perception of all the evidences that prove his resurrection, he must needs feel so overpowered by conviction as to fling away all reserve, and accept the profession of the name of Christ with all the earnest ardour which such a conviction must, in the highest reason, inspire. The apologetic tone of modern professors ill befits a subject so incontestably true and so unutterably stupendous in its importance.

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