12 November 2013

Tractatus theologico-politicus by Benedictus de Spinoza

The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus or Theologico-Political Treatise is devoted to an analysis of the Bible.  Spinoza sets out to demonstrate, among other things, that the Bible is full of obscurities and contradicts itself with abandon: that the Pentateuch (the first five books of Jewish and Christian Scriptures) manifestly did not come from the pen of God, Moses, or any other single author, but rather was the work of several very human writers over a long span of time. That the Jews were not God’s ‘chosen people,’ except in the sense that they thrived in a specific place and time long ago; that the miracles reported in the Bible are always imaginary and often ill formed (how could Joshua say that the sun stopped one day, for example, when it is the earth that moves?) and that the prophets had no special powers to see into the future, but rather had only a talent for elaborating moral insights in a colourful language adapted to the preconceptions and the prejudices of the common people.  In short, Spinoza presents a thoroughly secular and historicist reading of the scriptures – entirely unexceptional by modern standards– according to which the Bible is clearly the work of human hands, and the truth it relays are, in the main, not factual but moral. (refer page 100, ‘The Courtier and the Heretic,’ by Matthew Stewart).