Putting the Interpretative Method to Work
Putting the Interpretative Method to Work
Abstract and Keywords
Before Spinoza can use his method to explain what the Bible teaches and show that its doctrine is compatible with the freedom to philosophise, he needs to clear away four errors defended by his theological opponents. Against the claim that scriptural doctrine was conveyed to the prophets by supernatural means, Spinoza argues that the Bible is a compilation written by many human authors over a long period of time. Against the view that the Pentateuch was written by Moses, he concludes that Moses was not the author of any surviving texts. Addressing an ongoing debate about the significance of the Masora, he dismisses the suggestion that these biblical annotations convey religious mysteries. Finally, despite appearances, the Apostles did not teach any speculative or philosophical doctrines. Throughout, however, Spinoza's aim is not to undermine the divinity of Scripture, but to separate its true teaching from superstitious misinterpretations.
The interpretative approach that Spinoza has outlined is designed to capture what he describes as the foundations and principles of our knowledge of the Scriptures.1 As long as exegetes stick conscientiously to his historical method, they will be able to understand the teaching of the Bible as well as it can be understood. Rather than distorting its meaning and enhancing superstition, their efforts will enable them to decode the prophets' metaphors and affirm its central message. That, at least, is the claim. But while the Treatise goes to great lengths to defend this hermeneutic stance against a string of potential criticisms, it remains to show what it can do. What exegetical errors can a history of Scripture put right and what superstitious practices can it unmask? Unless the answers are compelling, readers may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss has been about.2
Spinoza, is more than willing to rise to the challenge, and sets out to show that his method can overcome ‘the common prejudices of theology’.3 Despite the fact that parts of the history of Scripture have fallen into oblivion4 and that (p.162) commentators have ‘concocted new things out of their own brains’,5 it is still just about possible to circumvent their errors and identify the true teachings of Scripture. In a sequence of chapters he takes on four theological prejudices (the first three closely interlocking), each of which bears in different ways on the development of his argument; and by showing where these prejudices go wrong he puts himself in a stronger position to dismiss them. The conclusions of this section of the Treatise are therefore partly negative, although as we shall see they have a number of radical implications. By far the most important of these, from Spinoza's point of view, is that Spinoza's analysis puts him in a position to take up the main thread of his discussion and explain what a religious way of life consists in. By discrediting his Calvinist opponents, he clears the way for his own account of the substance of Scripture's doctrine.
The first stage in this process focuses on the authorship of the various books of the Bible. Continuing his critique of the Reformed Church, Spinoza first employs his method to demolish the view that the Old Testament as a whole is the word of God. In fact, he argues, it is a compilation, written by several hands and only assembled in its present form during the era of the Maccabees.6 The aim of this lengthy exercise (which begins with an examination of the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and Kings, and then moves on to consider the books of the prophets), is partly to vindicate a piecemeal approach to the books of Scripture. ‘Proving the divinity of one book’, Spinoza urges, ‘is not enough to establish the divinity of all’7; rather, the authority of each individual book must be considered on its own merits. Next in line to be dismissed is the belief that ‘by a certain special providence, God has kept the whole Bible uncorrupted’. Rather than simply assuming that the moral doctrine of the text remains decipherable, we have to use the historical method to find out whether this is so, and whether the meaning of Scripture, ‘the only thing in a statement that gives us a reason for calling it divine, has reached us without corruption, even though we may suppose that the words by which it was first signified have very frequently been changed’.8 Here Spinoza will reach a positive conclusion; but in the course of doing so he will set aside what he regards as a third error, this time concerning the marginal notes in the Masoretic version of the Old Testament. The Masoretic text, he argues, was created during the latter part of the first millennium CE by scholars who inserted vowel points in the earlier Hebrew manuscripts. As they did so, they also added marginal annotations known as the ‘Masorah’, which subsequently became the subject of fierce (p.163) scholarly controversy.9 According to certain commentators, some of these annotations indicate divine mysteries concealed in the main body of the text,10 and this is one of the views that Spinoza will contest.11
In all these cases, Spinoza is determined to show that problems for which commentators have sought supernatural solutions can be resolved by appeal to the natural reasoning on which his method relies. To be sure, he concedes, he is not likely to persuade everyone. ‘Those who consider the Bible, as it is, as a letter God has sent men from Heaven will doubtless cry out that I have committed a sin against the Holy Ghost, because I have maintained that the word of God is faulty…that we have only fragments of it, and finally that the original text of the covenant God made with the Jews has been lost’.12 But Spinoza, on his side, is engaged in a campaign against these opponents, who, ‘in their excessive zeal to be holy, may turn religion into superstition, and indeed, may begin to worship likenesses and images, i.e. paper and ink, in place of the word of God’.13
Before leaving the theme of interpretation, Spinoza turns his attention to a fourth prejudice specifically about the status of the New Testament. Looking forward to the positive account of religion he will go on to offer, he pauses to show how his historical approach to Scripture can deal with a difficulty that threatens to stand in his way. As with the Old Testament, we need to resist the view that the New Testament as a whole is the word of God by distinguishing its core doctrines from other elements in the text. By sticking to the historical method and paying careful attention to the style of the Apostle's utterances we can separate prophecy from teaching. Thus released from the need to accept everything the Apostles say as authoritative, Spinoza is ready to give an account of the teaching expressed in one form by Moses and in another by Christ.
Diverse as they are, each of these discussions plays a part in building an overall case for a conception of the Bible as a text compiled and transmitted over many generations, in which numerous ordinary human actions and attitudes are recorded. The interpretative method that Spinoza has set out now begins to produce what is from a Calvinist point of view poisonous fruit, as he progressively undercuts all attempt to associate the Scriptures with the supernatural. Failing to treat the biblical books as human artefacts written by human authors is, so Spinoza repeatedly insists, a form of superstition. Even if it does not (p.164) directly arouse hopes and fears that stifle the capacity for independent thought, it is integral to practices that do so.
The authors of the Old Testament
According to the Belgic Confession, ‘God commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing; and he himself wrote with his own finger the two tables of the law’. Furthermore, ‘the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts that [the canonical books] are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves’.14 Officially, then, Dutch Calvinists were committed to some version of the belief that the Bible is a communication from God, and that the individual prophetic books are the work of the particular prophets to whom he revealed himself. For example, so it was traditionally assumed, the author of the Pentateuch was Moses.15 This assumption was not of course confined to Calvinism. It was held by other Christian churches and, as Spinoza points out, was an important part of Jewish tradition as well. ‘Indeed,’ he adds, ‘the Pharisees maintained it so stubbornly that they regarded anyone who seemed to think otherwise as a heretic’.16 Furthermore, in all these confessions, the view that the Pentateuch contained Moses’ testimony of revelation is used to sustain the belief that Scripture possesses a special kind of authority.
While the view that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch remained standard, inconsistencies in the text had led a series of biblical commentators to raise doubts about it, and Spinoza now adds his voice to their sceptical chorus. Moses, he claims, was not the author of the Pentateuch. In support of his contention, he cites the work of a twelfth‐century Spanish rabbi, Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089–1164), who ‘possessed an independent mind and no slight learning and was the first of those I have read to take notice of this prejudice’.17 Ibn Ezra had obliquely proposed that certain passages of the Pentateuch are later interpolations. For example, Moses is sometimes mentioned in the third person, as in ‘Moses wrote the law’; Deuteronomy contains words that Moses is (p.165) said to have uttered after he had crossed the Jordan, which he never did; the author makes it clear, when he speaks about Moses’ life, that he is describing events that happened long ago; and the author inserts explanations that Moses himself would not have needed to provide.18 On the basis of scattered pieces of evidence such as these, Ibn Ezra concluded that sections must have been added to the original text. Spinoza, however, goes further. He argues for the much stronger thesis that none of the surviving text of the Pentateuch was written by Moses, which as far as we can tell is the work of the scribe Ezra.19
The belief that Ezra had helped to re‐establish the Mosaic Law after the Jews’ return from Babylonian captivity derives from the book of Nehemiah. According to Jewish tradition, Ezra, acting under divine guidance, not only recovered the content of Moses’ original books of the law but produced the surviving Masoretic text. Together with a Grand Synagogue or council of wise men, including some of the prophets, he then fixed the canon. The view that Ezra had miraculously reconstituted the original text of the Bible was also confirmed by the Church fathers on the basis of the apocryphal book of Esdras, and was used by Islamic writers to undermine the Jewish and Christian claim that the Old Testament is the word of God.
Ibn Ezra's critical suggestions about the origin of the Pentateuch were subsequently taken up and developed by a series of Christian scholars, the most influential being a fifteenth‐century Spanish Hebraist, Alfonso Tostado Ribera de Madrigal (Tostatus) (1400–55), whose works remained widely known throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.20 Although Tostatus rejected some of Ibn Ezra's specific hypotheses, he agreed that the Pentateuch contains later additions, and shared the traditional view that these were the work of Ezra.21 In doing so, moreover, he reminded his readers that the authorship of the Pentateuch was debatable, and released a string of increasingly radical critical speculations. During the following century, Andreas Masius (d. 1573), a Flemish Catholic theologian and a distinguished Hebrew scholar, argued that Ezra had compiled the books of Joshua, Judges, and Kings from an assortment of earlier materials, and had at the very least inserted additional phrases into the Pentateuch.22 Among the writers who (p.166) developed this set of claims was another native of Flanders, the Jesuit Cornelius à Lapide (1567–1637), who voiced Masius’ implicit suggestion that not only the later books of the Old Testament, but those of the Pentateuch as well, may have been compiled from earlier texts written by Moses.23
This line of thought was taken over by two of Spinoza's immediate predecessors, Isaac La Peyrère and Thomas Hobbes. In Leviathan, Hobbes is at his most deadpan as he points out that we cannot infer from the title of the Books of Moses that Moses was their author; ‘The history of Livy’, he writes ‘denotes the writer; but the history of Alexander is denominated from the subject’.24 The Pentateuch, he concludes, was compiled after Moses’ death, though the account of the law in Chapter 11 of Deuteronomy is the work of Moses himself.25 Moreover, the other books of the Old Testament were written long after the events they describe. ‘The whole Scripture of the Old Testament, was set forth in the form we have it, after the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, and before the time of Ptolemaus Philadelphus, that caused it to be translated into Greek by seventy men, which were sent him out of Judea for that purpose’.26 Equally, La Peyrère argues in his Pre‐Adamitae, that the Scriptures were assembled from a collection of diverse sources. As Noel Malcolm has shown, however, almost all the evidence to which these two writers, and indeed Spinoza, appeal, had already been assembled by Tostatus, Lapide, and others. So, although the only forerunner that Spinoza actually mentions is Ibn Ezra, it is safe to assume that he, like La Peyrère and Hobbes, is drawing on a wider debate in order to defend what the more conservative theologians of the Reformed Church regarded as an unacceptable conclusion: that the text of the Bible as we know it is based on earlier manuscripts that have since been lost, and was assembled over a considerable period of time.
Spinoza's grounds for affirming that Moses is not the author of the Pentateuch can be quickly summarized. He starts out by bolstering Ibn Ezra's claim that the text contains interpolations, citing further examples, all except one of which had been mentioned by Tostatus or Cornelius à Lapide.27 For example, (p.167) Deuteronomy includes an account of Moses’ death and the events that followed it, which he himself could not have written, and some of the place‐names it mentions date from a later period.28 If we press this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, Spinoza points out, we are bound to wonder whether Moses is the author of any of the Pentateuch, and the only way to answer the question is of course to consult Scripture. According to Exodus, Moses wrote an account of the war between the Israelites and Amalek, and recorded the laws that God imposed when he first entered into a covenant with the Israelites. After the initial covenant had been broken, he also wrote an account of the laws governing the new agreement with God, which was later expanded by Joshua.29 But since it is clear that none of these works is contained in the Pentateuch, the balance of evidence indicates that Moses did not write any of the books we now possess.
Engaging with his readers’ expectations, Spinoza allows that this conclusion may seem unduly revisionist. Because we know that Moses recorded some laws, it is tempting to infer that he probably also wrote down the laws listed in Deuteronomy. However, this is not an inference that the historical method permits us to make. To do so would be to import our own independent beliefs into the interpretative process, thus departing from the rule of interpreting Scripture by Scripture and ‘twisting its words to our liking’. And this would amount to denying Scripture and making up a new version of it to suit ourselves.30 If we are to stick to a defensible interpretative method, we simply have to admit our ignorance. As far as we can tell, we no longer possess the works originally written by Moses and must assume that they have been lost.31 We therefore have no grounds for claiming that he is the author of any surviving book of Scripture.32
This is a striking argument. The commentators with whom Spinoza is engaging largely worked with the assumption that, except where the evidence explicitly indicated otherwise, it was safe to conclude that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. This approach enabled them to root out later additions, thus disclosing an ur text in all its divine purity. Spinoza, however, shifts the burden of proof. Unless the surviving text explicitly indicates that Moses did write a particular book, we cannot legitimately conclude that he was its author. ‘Even though I might grant that it seems consistent with reason that Moses should have written down the laws at the very time and place in which he happened to communicate them, nevertheless I deny that it is permissible for us to affirm on (p.168) this ground that he did so’.33 One of the distinctive features of his method is therefore that it vindicates this much stiffer test of authorship.
The critical techniques that have yielded this conclusion about Moses can, of course, be applied to other sections of the Old Testament. Echoing both Lapide and Hobbes, Spinoza offers evidence that the Book of Joshua was not written by Joshua, that the Judges did not write Judges, and that Samuel did not write Samuel.34 Internal evidence reveals that the Book of Kings is a compilation, and inconsistencies between one biblical book and another show that Chronicles was written long after Ezra; that the Psalms were collected during the era of the Second Temple, five hundred or so years after the rule of David; and that Proverbs was probably written about the same time.35 As for the books of the prophets, it is clear that these were collected from various sources and are fragments of earlier texts.36 The origin of the Book of Job, Spinoza allows, is a matter of conjecture, but he is inclined to follow Ibn Ezra's view that it was translated into Hebrew from another language.37 Finally, Daniel, Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah were all written after the restoration of the Temple, by a historian who was certainly neither Ezra nor Nehemiah.38 The aim of this catalogue is progressively to undermine the prevalent assumption that the Bible is a direct and unified record of the divine word, while simultaneously displaying the virtues of Spinoza's method. Much depends, as his conclusions show, on evidence about when a text was written, whether it was copied from another extant work, and whether it contradicts other existing sources. Commentators who fail to consider these issues allow themselves to go astray.
This is a predominantly negative result; but the historical method on which it is grounded also allows Spinoza to arrive at positive hypotheses about the authorship of the Old Testament. Because the first five books tell a connected narrative, it is reasonable to assume that they were the work of a single author who ‘wanted to write about the past history of the Jews from their first origin to the first destruction of the city’.39 Since we also know that they were written long after the events they describe, it is probable, as both Jewish and Christian commentators agree, that the historian in question was Ezra.40 If so, we can tell from internal evidence that Ezra compiled information from a collection of earlier histories by more than one hand, but he was for some reason unable to complete the project.41 The precepts and stories he recounts are ‘collected and piled up indiscriminately, so that afterwards they might be more easily (p.169) examined and put in their place’.42 As they stand, they are full of repetitions, unaltered transcriptions, and discrepancies.
Many of the most glaring inconsistencies in the Pentateuch are chronological, and although strenuous attempts had been made to reconcile the various lengths of time it mentions, Spinoza is adamant that such efforts are doomed.43 In a rare autobiographical aside, he assures his readers that he was educated in the rabbinical tradition and has tried for many years to vindicate its commitment to consistency, but has come to the conclusion that in this respect it simply will not work.44 The chronology of the Old Testament does not add up, and in order to make it do so one has to invent fanciful interpretations that corrupt the language of the text. But this is ‘insane’.45 For example, the fourteenth‐century rabbi Levi ben Gerson, also known as Gersonides,46 attempted to vindicate the transparent claim that Solomon built the Temple four hundred and eighty years after the Jews’ expulsion from Egypt by adjusting other equally clear assertions elsewhere in the text, such as that Moses governed his people in the wilderness for forty years. ‘It is quite evident’, Spinoza comments, ‘that this rabbi…and those who follow in his footsteps…are correcting Scripture rather than explaining it’,47 and are more concerned to uphold its divinity than to establish its truth.48
There is no reason to suppose that the commentators whom Spinoza describes as following in Gersonides's footsteps are all and only Jews. Here, once again, Spinoza is criticizing not only the rabbinical tradition, but also Christian authors who are prepared to revise clear passages in order to sustain their prejudices about the Bible's overall meaning. ‘As for their thinking it pious to accommodate some passages of Scripture to others, it is surely a ridiculous piety, in that they accommodate the clear passages to the obscure, the correct to the faulty, and corrupt sound passages with those which are spoiled’. To avoid these types of error, one must among other things be prepared to face up to the chronological claims made in the text, and refuse, in Spinoza's Cartesian metaphor, to treat Scripture as though it were a piece of wax, capable of taking on an infinity of different forms.49
(p.170) To understand the Old Testament, then, we must treat it as a bundle of texts derived from earlier works that have not survived and put together by historians whose powers of imagining and reasoning were nothing above the ordinary. There is consequently no reason to accept the view upheld by some seventeenth‐century commentators that Ezra acted under divine guidance.50 Spinoza owned a copy of a commentary on the Masoretic Bible, published in 1620 by the Hebrew scholar Johannes Buxtorf the elder (1564–1629), who argued that Ezra, together with the other learned men who made up the Grand Synagogue or council at which the text of Scripture was determined, were inspired by God.51 The Treatise may therefore implicitly be referring to Buxtorf when it dismisses what it presents as a rabbinical claim. Ezra, Spinoza asserts, was not even present at the Great Synagogue, let alone divinely inspired, and the hypothesis that he was is an unfounded and ridiculous invention. All the evidence suggests that his efforts were thoroughly human.
While a sceptical attitude to scriptural chronology is undoubtedly what Spinoza's interpretative approach recommends, applying it carried certain risks. La Peyrère, for example, had grounded his claim that Adam was not the first man on chronological evidence,52 but in doing so had put himself in the heterodox position of questioning the widespread assumption that the Old Testament records the beginnings of terrestrial and human history. The Pre‐Adamitae had been publicly burned in Paris, and its author imprisoned.53 Chronological arguments could therefore be dangerous, and in Spinoza's hands they are combined with other techniques to undermine the Reformed Church's view of Scripture. No longer dictated by God, it becomes a compilation of works written by various historians over a period, Spinoza calculates, of at least two thousand years.54 In what sense, then, can it be said to be divine? In due course Spinoza will reassure his readers that Scripture is more than simply one text among others by explicating a sense in which it can properly be said to teach the divine word. Before that, however, he needs to resolve a set of problems about its authenticity.
Drawing on the biblical scholarship of his time, Spinoza embraces the view that only a few copies of Ezra's original history survived to be copied by later generations of scribes. Furthermore, the canonical books were selected by a council of Pharisees, whose decisions may or may not have been well grounded.55 With a swipe at the integrity of official deliberations about religious doctrine (and by implication at the Synod of Dort where the Reformed Church's confession had been confirmed), Spinoza paints a dark picture of the motivations and procedures by which they are driven: ‘the wise’, he comments, ‘who know the causes of Councils and Synods, and also the controversies of the Pharisees and Sadducees, will easily be able to conjecture what were the causes of the convocation of that great Synagogue or Council’.56
Given the Bible's chequered past and the prejudices of religious councils, it is natural to wonder whether the essential doctrines revealed to the prophets have been transmitted to the surviving text, and thus whether even our best interpretative tools are capable of disclosing them. Perhaps the doctrine of Scripture has been systematically doctored. Perhaps its moral teachings have been utterly corrupted and are beyond our hermeneutic reach. Since Spinoza agrees that tracts of the history of Scripture are irrecoverable, he is vulnerable to this sceptical line of questioning; but he also has strong motives for resisting it. If the texts of the Bible were comprehensively corrupted there would be no point in devising an elaborate interpretative method for recovering their original meaning. In addition, it would be impossible to maintain, as Spinoza has done, that the central teachings of Scripture are clear and transparent. In order to hold on to this assumption, which he shares with his Calvinist contemporaries, he needs to establish that the Bible is sufficiently uncorrupted to bear it. ‘The fact that some passages are corrupt’, he will argue, ‘does not permit us to suspect them all’. On the contrary, we need to identify mutilated passages in order to make sure that they do not contaminate those that are clear.57
The debate into which Spinoza now enters had engrossed generations of biblical scholars, and touched on fundamental differences between Protestant and Roman Catholic theology.58 Protestants had traditionally resisted the Catholic claim that religious authority lies with the Church by arguing that it lies solely with Scripture. However, the more problematic the interpretation of the Bible became, the more Catholics were able to retort that, like (p.172) them, Protestants needed some authority to adjudicate between competing claims about the text. Scripture, they argued, cannot be interpreted by Scripture alone; the judgment of the Church is also required. In the seventeenth century, Catholic writers gathered support for their position from new information about the history of the Masoretic text. According to rabbinical and early Christian tradition, the vowel points had been inserted into this version of the Bible by Ezra and his scribes; but by the seventeenth century the work of Jewish and Christian scholars had shown that the points were added at a considerably later date. (Part of the Jewish side of this debate was summarized in a work by Joseph Salomon Delmedigo, of which Spinoza had a copy.59) The Masoretic Bible, it emerged, was not compiled, ordered, and overseen by Ezra. Instead, it was a descendant of Ezra's text, modified by later Jewish scribes who may have corrupted it, either intentionally or out of ignorance.
For the Catholic Church this was welcome news. For example, it allowed Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) to defend what became the standard Catholic view that, although there was no reason to think that the Jews maliciously mutilated the Bible, the insertion of vowel points and the process of copying had undoubtedly introduced errors. These had in turn generated misunderstandings and variant readings that could only be resolved by an authority such as the Church. However, the same textual discoveries put Calvinist and other Protestant commentators in an awkward spot. To concede that the text of Scripture contained errors was to open the way to Popery. Yet to insist that the Bible is a single, consistent work was to open oneself to scholarly ridicule. Among the commentators willing to take the latter risk was Johannes Buxtorf, who defended the purity of the Masoretic text, vowel points included.60 Again, it is possible that Buxtorf is at least one of the objects of Spinoza's uncompromising complaint that commentators who adopt this view ‘expose the writers of the Bible to contempt’. If other kinds of historians were to adopt the interpretative strategies that these commentators regard as required by piety, they would be laughed out of court. ‘And if they think that a person who says that Scripture is faulty is guilty of blasphemy, I want to know what I should call (p.173) those who ascribe to Scripture whatever invention they please…or who deny its clearest and most evident meanings’.61
In the circumstances, the only intellectually respectable response was to acknowledge that the text of the Bible contains errors. But such a concession was theologically and politically contentious. Aside from Hobbes, one of the very few Protestant writers who publicly embraced the implications of recent scholarship was Louis Cappel (1585–1658), a Huguenot professor of Hebrew and theology at Saumur.62 Cappel allowed that the Masoretic text is unreliable, and that the Protestant claim that it does not differ from the versions written by Moses or Ezra is untenable. Nevertheless, he went on, the text is not so corrupted that its meaning is impossible to recover, and by means of careful interpretation we can find out what it teaches.63 This did not go down well in Holland, where some Reformed theologians viewed it as a betrayal of faith and consequently blocked the publication of Cappel's Critica Sacra.64 When the work appeared in Paris in 1650 it was fiercely attacked by Buxtorf's son, Johannes Buxtorf II, who shared his father's theological outlook.65 Nevertheless, Cappel's position has much in common with the one Spinoza defended twenty years later.
Like Cappel, Spinoza starts from what his most hard‐line Calvinist contemporaries continued to view as a blasphemous position. No one of sound judgement, he claims, can deny that the surviving text of the Old Testament contains errors and mutilations.66 Moreover, these flaws certainly pose grave exegetical problems. Fortunately, however, they do not prevent us from understanding the Bible, and ‘are of little importance, at least for those who read the Scriptures with a comparatively independent judgment’.67
Among the difficulties to be overcome are the ambiguities surrounding vowel points and punctuation. In order to defend the antiquity and thus greater authenticity of the biblical text, some commentators continued to insist that the points were added at an early stage. But Spinoza rejects this view. Following more up‐to‐date scholarship, he takes it that, since they were introduced (p.174) relatively late, interpreters should not put too much faith in them. Instead, they should take account of variant readings and use them to resolve inconsistencies.68 A further series of problems is posed by marginal additions. These interpolations, Spinoza claims, are of several kinds. Some are simply variants arising from the fact that it can be hard to distinguish one Hebrew letter from another that closely resembles it.69 Where a phrase containing the first letter occurs in the text, a scribe has appended the phrase containing the second letter in the margin. Equally, some marginal variants note quiescent or unpronounced letters, which are not included in the main body of the text, in order to show how it should be read. A further class of marginalia records words that have become obsolete; and yet another is designed to show how the text should be read to audiences whose wicked conduct and extravagant way of life has given obscene connotations to certain natural functions. For example, the annotations offer euphemistic substitutes for Scripture's unembarrassed references to sex or excrement.70
As Spinoza presents the matter, interpolations of these kinds do not pose an insurmountable obstacle. The exegete must work out what type a particular addition belongs to and be guided by the resulting information. The tension surrounding debates about the status of textual additions arises, he suggests, from the claim that explanations such as the ones he has just offered are not adequate, and that the only satisfactory way to explain the scribes’ interpolations is to view them as signs of secret mysteries contained within the main body of the text.71 ‘Most people’ he complains, refuse to admit that scribes have introduced errors into the text, and prefer to interpret their divergent readings as signs of some deeper meaning. But this is a ludicrous view. ‘Whether they have said these things out of foolishness and credulous devotion, or out of arrogance and malice, so that they alone would be believed to possess God's secrets, I do not know. But I do know this: that in their writings I have read nothing that had the air of a secret, but only childish thoughts. I have also read, and for that matter know personally, certain Kabbalistic triflers, whose insanity always taxed my capacity for amazement’.72 Elsewhere in the Treatise (p.175) Spinoza makes it clear that what he regards as a crazy and diversionary preoccupation with mysteries is not confined to Kabbalists, but extends to Christian commentators. Theologians who concentrate on identifying mysteries and attributing them to the Holy Spirit are often motivated by the desire to arouse admiration and veneration for a doctrine that exceeds the reach of natural reasoning.73 At the same time, they use these mysteries to introduce so many speculative questions into religion that ‘the Church seems to be an Academy and religion science, or rather, a disputation’.74 On inspection, however, mysteries that are supposed to be so profound as to be inexplicable turn out to be ‘the inventions of Aristotle or Plato, or someone like that’,75 and do not even have a claim to novelty, let alone divinity.
As these criticisms indicate, Spinoza regards any attempt to find mysteries in the masora as just one example of a more general interpretative trend that encompasses several traditions and is opposed to his own determination to make the Bible rationally accessible. Elsewhere in the Treatise, for example, he berates a Jewish medieval commentator, Rabbi Jehuda Alpakhar,76 for insisting on an excessively literal reading of Scripture that makes it virtually unintelligible. When the Bible asserts that God is a fire, for example, Alpakhar decrees that we must not only accept that this is what it says. We must also renounce any attempt to assess the claim that God is a fire, and accept that it is true. Energetically repudiating this opinion, Spinoza ‘marvels that a man endowed with reason should be so eager to destroy it’.77 Rather than subordinating our capacity for reasoning to Scripture, we must of course bring our judgment to bear on the claims it makes; and since we are incapable of believing assertions that we regard as contrary to reason, Alpakhar in any case demands the impossible.
Like Maimonides, Alpakhar stands in here for some of Spinoza's contemporary opponents, including the theologians of the Reformed Church, whose doctrine committed them to mysteries such as the Incarnation and the Trinity. While a Calvinist theologian might agree with Spinoza that no deep mysteries were concealed in the marginal annotations of the Bible, the fact that he runs (p.176) this specific critique together with a broader attack on biblical mysteries made his position threatening to a confession that imbued them with deep significance. Equally, Spinoza's position would have troubled Dutch Cartesians, who followed Descartes in holding that the Christian mysteries were inexplicable, rather than forthrightly condemning them as empty or ridiculous. Spinoza, however, does not hold back. ‘I cannot marvel enough that people should want to make reason, the divine light and [God's] greatest gift, subordinate to dead letters. How can it be thought no crime to speak unworthily against the mind, the true original text of God's word, by maintaining that it is corrupt, blind or lost, yet considered a very great crime to think such things about the letter, the image of God's word?…What are they afraid of? Do they think that religion and faith cannot be defended unless men deliberately know nothing about anything and say farewell to reason completely? Surely, if they believe this, they fear Scripture more than they trust it’.78
The fact that, in attacking mysteries, Spinoza is implicitly putting a great deal of pressure on a central Calvinist doctrine may help to explain the fact that he takes care to engage with various interpretations of the masora, despite regarding them as wrong‐headed, and examines several arguments in their favour. For example, the proponents of what we might call the mystery view are puzzled by the fact that generations of scribes have retained variant readings, despite the fact that some of them are obviously mistaken. If they are simply errors, why should the scribes have replicated them? Spinoza's pragmatic response points once again to the limits of our knowledge of the history of Scripture. ‘I do not know’, he comments, ‘what superstition persuaded them to do’. But we can conceive of various explanations. Perhaps they were not sure which reading was correct. Perhaps they were indicating how they wanted the text to be read. Either way, we do not need to resort to anything as bizarre as the mystery view.79
More interesting is a hypothesis about what appear to be systematic but obvious errors. Since these mistakes could not have occurred by chance, and were not corrected, ‘the Pharisees conclude that the first writers made them according to a definite plan, to signify something’.80 Once again, however, the solution to the puzzle is mundane. For instance, proponents of the mystery view are excited by the fact that the Hebrew word for ‘girl’ is always written defectively in the Pentateuch, but correctly in the margin. Why, they ask, did the scribes not correct the text? The answer, Spinoza explains, lies in linguistic (p.177) change. Because the word in the text had become obsolete, the scribes added the modern variant in the margin. There is nothing to get excited about.
In these and the other arguments he considers, Spinoza contends again and again that the resources of ordinary reasoning on which his interpretative method depends can deal with difficulties that have been held to stand in the way of understanding the text. While the marginal annotations and vowel points have undoubtedly introduced errors and ambiguities, these can usually be resolved, and there is no reason to suppose that they have a superstitious or mysterious explanation. Nevertheless, all these conclusions are grounded on the assumption that we can understand the language in which the text is written; and this in turn presupposes that the meanings of individual words have not been so systematically altered that their original sense is irrecoverable. Is this a defensible presupposition? Reflecting on the possibility that biblical Hebrew might have been wilfully corrupted, Spinoza rules it out. It is extremely difficult for an individual writer to change even the meaning of a single word, because other writers and speakers continue to use it as before. Furthermore, since a language is made up of individual words, it is still more difficult—in fact impossible—deliberately to corrupt an entire language. Contrary to the view held by some commentators, that the scribes had the power to corrupt Scripture but refrained from doing so, Spinoza defends the stronger view that such a course was beyond them.81 We can therefore rest assured that the Hebrew in which the Masoretic text is written has not been deliberately distorted out of recognition, and that as long as we proceed carefully, we can understand what it says.
However, an obvious problem remains. Even if a whole language cannot be corrupted, it is easy enough for a group of people who exercise control over a text to alter its meaning, for example by modifying the speeches that it contains. If the Bible as we know it is the fruit of a long process of compilation and transmission, how can we be sure that its original doctrines have not been systematically changed? How can we tell that the precepts it now teaches are the ones it originally professed? Once again, Spinoza is optimistic, this time on the grounds that the core teaching of all the biblical books is evident and consistent. To alter this, one would have to change each book in the same way, so that Scripture as a whole would be a different work. But this is so improbable (p.178) that we can confidently put the worry aside. The doctrine of Scripture has not only survived. It is also so clear that almost anyone can grasp it.82
The position Spinoza defends is a delicate one. On the one hand, he aligns himself with up‐to‐date biblical criticism by examining the history of the text and identifying errors and additions. On the other hand, he keenly protests that his approach does not undermine or threaten the divinity of Scripture. His interpretative method protects the Bible by enabling us to separate its true message from the dross of corruption.83 Moreover, by upholding the rule that Scripture must interpret Scripture, it respects the integrity of the text and isolates it from merely human history. There is, however, something equivocal about the way Spinoza aligns himself with this principle. Once we take seriously the fact that the text of the Bible has changed over time and been translated from one language into another, we are bound to conclude that whatever is important about it cannot be identified with the particular set of words that make up the canon. To deny this is to fall prey to superstition and to worship paper and ink, as many theologians and commentators who squabble over particular phrases are guilty of doing.84 Perhaps, then, the divinity of Scripture resides in the uncorrupted passages of the text that make up its central doctrine? But here the same objection applies. There is, for example, nothing divine about the words of God's revelations to Moses as they are recorded in the Pentateuch. They are simply sounds, or paper and ink, readily translatable into other sounds or other pieces of paper and ink; and this will apply to any statement of biblical teaching.
Because scriptural interpretation has got so bogged down in tortuous interpretative strategies, many of which Spinoza regards as manifestations of superstition, we need a method of interpretation that will cut through the misreadings to which theologians cling. By revealing the hermeneutic errors on which textually based religions ground their creeds, it is at least possible to show that their claims have no scriptural authority. However, it is important not to erect a new worship for the words of Scripture as the historical method allows us to understand them. In many cases we are incapable of determining what a particular passage means, and while we can detect errors we cannot always put them right. So while biblical hermeneutics is a worthwhile scholarly activity, we should not let the text dominate religion in such a way that it, rather than its teaching, becomes the object of our reverence. The point of developing a sound method of interpretation is thus partly negative: it is a (p.179) means of overcoming and preventing the growth of superstitious practices that feed on misunderstandings of biblical doctrine. At the same time, however, the method plays a positive role that can counter superstition. Applying it to Scripture enables us to see that the Bible itself is not divine, and that its divinity must reside in something other than the text.
Preaching and prophesying
Considering that Spinoza is writing for a largely Christian audience and is primarily addressing the views of Christian theologians, it may seem curious that he has said so little about the teachings of the New Testament. Although he has distinguished the imaginative form of revelation experienced by the Old Testament prophets from the intuitive form experienced by Christ, he has remained virtually silent about the doctrines taught by the Apostles. ‘No one who has read the New Testament’, he now asserts, ‘can doubt that [the Apostles] were prophets’, whose imaginative gifts enabled them to elaborate and communicate the doctrine that they had themselves learned from Christ. But just as it was important in the case of the Old Testament to distinguish the prophets’ revelations from their ordinary utterances, so we now need to try to do the same with the teachings of the Apostles.
This is a crucial step in the argument of the Treatise. One of the primary aims of Spinoza's initial discussion of prophecy was to discount the prophets’ speculative opinions about nature and God on the basis of biblical evidence. Nothing suggests that Moses or Joshua, for example, were philosophically sophisticated people whose speculative views are worthy of respect. Furthermore, their project was not to understand God, nature, or the good in a philosophical fashion, but to persuade their audiences to adopt a particular way of life. The question now is whether the speculative opinions of the Apostles also lack authority; but the problem has taken on a new dimension. Whereas the prophets taught particular nations, the Apostles taught the universal form of the divine law that they had learned from Christ. Although they did, of course, address distinct groups of people in their various Epistles, their doctrine was applicable to everyone, including the philosophically educated. This suggests that their speculative claims may be harder to dismiss. It is possible that these claims were transmitted to the Apostles by Christ (who in turn had them from God), and that they are part of divine doctrine. With this in mind, we need to work out when the Apostles are communicating truths revealed to them by God, and when are they simply offering views of their own.
(p.180) On the whole Spinoza would prefer to avoid this topic, and it is easy to see why. An excommunicated Jew with a reputation for atheism might have well hesitated to challenge Calvinist biblical scholars in what they regarded as the sanctuary of their religious faith. Excusing himself from investigating the New Testament fully, he remarks that the task has already been undertaken ‘by men who are learned in the sciences, and especially in languages’; that he does not know enough Greek (although this does not prevent him from commenting on the correct interpretation of certain Greek passages);85 and that Hebrew versions of the texts are not available.86,87 Nevertheless, there is an issue that he needs to address. His analysis of accommodation has enabled him to open up a large space for free philosophical enquiry by showing that there are many topics on which the prophets’ utterances are not intended to be philosophically compelling. But this space will be snatched away from him unless he can establish that the same applies to the Apostles’ speculative claims. If they have to be taken au pied de la lettre and treated as part of biblical doctrine, the fence between theology and philosophy that Spinoza has been constructing will collapse. Furthermore, since the speculative claims of one Apostle sometimes contradict those of another, the discrepancies between them will make the interpretation of Scripture contentious. Philosophical issues will inevitably become tangled up with endless theological disputes, schisms, and superstitions, so that the question of what one can affirm about philosophy will be theologically tainted.88 If Spinoza is to sustain his view that philosophical enquiry can proceed independently of Scripture, it is therefore vital to show that the Apostles’ speculations are not part of their core doctrine.
How can this conclusion be sustained? Returning to his initial classification of types of accommodation, Spinoza reminds his readers that the capacity to prophesy is only intermittent. Because it is a function of imaginative powers that vary with time and place, it can only occur when conditions are right, and at other times the forms of imagining and reasoning on which prophets rely are (p.181) not exceptional. Their lives are shaped by the experience of revelation; but only some of the things they say and do are revealed to them by God. Interpreters therefore need to pick and choose, basing their readings of revelation on a critical examination of the biblical record, and subjecting it to the interpretative techniques that Spinoza has outlined.
Among the many features of Scripture that interpreters need to take into account is the style of its speeches and narratives. By attending to style, Spinoza now claims, we can distinguish prophetic from non‐prophetic utterances. When prophets are inspired, they speak in a particular fashion. Phrases such as ‘thus says God’ make it clear that they are issuing divine instructions; and because they are conveying the divine word, they simply issue judgements without giving any reasons for them. (God does not give reasons, nor has the prophet reasoned his way to the view he expresses.) Conversely, the more that prophets argue, ‘the more the knowledge they have of the matter revealed approaches natural knowledge’.89 Guided by these stylistic differences, and applying them to the text of the New Testament, Spinoza concludes that the Apostles rarely prophesy, and in their letters merely offer their own opinions. ‘The way the Apostles both spoke and discussed things in their Epistles indicates most clearly that they were not written in accordance with revelation and a divine command, but only in accordance with their natural judgment, and contain nothing but brotherly advice, mixed with a politeness far removed from prophetic authority’.90
It may seem troubling, Spinoza allows, that on the basis of their natural reason the Apostles were able to teach things that are beyond reason's grasp. But the puzzle is easily solved. We have seen how, with the help of a proper interpretative method, we can use our ordinary powers of reasoning to create a history of Scripture, which tells us what the Bible says about events such as revelations and miracles whose causes we do not understand. Interpretation enables us to recover the meaning of a text which deals with events that we cannot rationally account for. However, whereas we bring the interpretative method to bear on the Bible, the Apostles applied it to the things they had seen and heard, and created a history of the life of Christ. They brought their interpretative skills to bear, not on a text, but on their immediate experience of Jesus, including the revelations and miracles that he, and to a lesser extent they themselves, performed. Using the same historical method, they assembled information from which they first extracted and then transmitted Christ's (p.182) teaching. Parts of this do indeed exceed the power of natural understanding. But since much of it consists of moral lessons that are accessible to everyone, their teaching is in general easy to understand.
The techniques of textual interpretation that Spinoza has defended therefore indicate that the Apostles were predominantly preachers rather than prophets, and that their teachings were not based on divine revelation. But what, then, is the status of the advice they offer, and are we bound to attend to it? Approaching this question in his usual exegetical manner, Spinoza first points out that the Apostles themselves testify that they have been given authority to teach as well as prophesy. For instance, Timothy describes himself as an ‘appointed preacher and Apostle…a teacher of the nations with faith and truth’.91 However, even if we accept that this is the case, we still do not know what they had authority to teach, and whether an Apostle could authoritatively teach in any way he wished. A further trawl through the biblical evidence divulges the answer. While all the Apostles taught the same religious precepts, each of them built these on a different foundation adapted to the mentality of his particular audience. Like other teachers, many of whom ‘prefer to teach people who are completely uneducated’ so that they can put their own stamp on them, each Apostle had their own pedagogical method, and defended religion on a different basis.92 This basis was in turn accommodated to distinct audiences. For example, the Apostles mainly preached to Jews who, according to Spinoza, disdained philosophy. They consequently ‘accommodated themselves to their audience and taught a religion devoid of philosophic speculations’.93 Paul, by contrast, preached to all the nations and based his teaching on ‘the foundations that were best known and accepted at that time’. As a result, he philosophized more than the rest.
As Spinoza implies, this has had disastrous effects. Generations of theologians who have failed to recognize the reason for the divergences in the Apostles’ doctrines have read them as authoritative. This in turn has ‘given rise to disputes and schisms which have tormented the Church incessantly from the time of the Apostles until the present day, and will surely torment it until religion is separated from philosophical speculations and reduced to the very few and very simple tenets taught by Christ and his followers’.94 Moreover, since the resulting religious debates are a source of superstitious anxiety, they feed the opposition to natural reason against which Spinoza is pitting himself. ‘How (p.183) happy our age would be’, he concludes, ‘if we saw religion again free of all superstition’.
By applying his account of accommodation to the Apostles, Spinoza is thus able to argue that their diverse philosophical opinions are not authoritative. As the interpretative method confirms, our philosophical convictions about nature, God, interpretation, or the foundations of morality may be as good as, or better than, theirs, and we are free to work out for ourselves what sort of foundation Christ's moral teaching requires.
Interpreting the divine word
Spinoza's chief anxiety is that he will now be accused of claiming that the word of God has been mutilated, distorted, corrupted, and fragmented. By treating Scripture in the same way as any other historical text, so his opponents will claim, he has not only denied its divinity but undermined religion.95 As he is forced to acknowledge, these charges are not entirely empty. ‘I confess that certain profane men, to whom religion is a burden, will be able to take what I have said as a licence to sin’ by inferring that Scripture is so thoroughly falsified that it completely lacks authority. But this, he protests, is not a good enough reason to keep quiet.96 People who are determined to ignore the demands of a religious way of life and indulge in sensual pleasures will always find some justification for doing so, and it would be silly to cling to a mistaken conception of scripture in the hope of making them virtuous.97 Moreover, setting aside this point, his opponents’ charges are unjustified. Their indefensible commitment to the view that Scripture is the unadulterated and sometimes mysterious word of God has given rise to a superstitious form of religion that not only distorts the true doctrine of the Bible but also generates damaging conceptions of piety. It is they who undermine religion, and the goal of Spinoza's critique is to strengthen it by freeing it from superstitious embellishments.98
Nevertheless, theologians who are used to viewing the Scriptures as the (mainly) unadulterated word of God are bound to find Spinoza's conclusions threatening. If the books of the Bible were written at different times, and if the canon was assembled by various Councils, the Scriptures may not all be equally authoritative. If the four Gospels of the New Testament were written with different audiences in mind, then the word of God cannot be identical with the surviving biblical text.99 Furthermore, access to the divine word cannot depend (p.184) on the fact that we now possess a certain number of books, any more than we take ourselves to be deprived of its teaching because certain other books have been lost.100 Rather than being inextricably embedded in the Bible, the word of God threatens to float free of any particular book, and thus of Scripture itself. To make good his claim that his arguments have unmasked superstition rather than destroyed religion, Spinoza therefore needs to show that the divine word is still legible, and up to now he has simply asserted that the central message of Scripture is easy for everyone to understand. His next task is to explain what this message is, and how it can be known.
(2) On Spinoza's analysis of the Bible, see Michael Heyd, Between Orthodoxy and the Enlightenment: Jean‐Robert Chouet and the Introduction of Cartesian Science in the Academy of Geneva (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1982); Jacqueline Lagrée and Pierre‐François Moreau, ‘La lecture de la Bible dans le cercle de Spinoza’, in Le grand siècle et la Bible, ed. Jean‐Robert Armogathe (Paris: Beauchesne, 1989); Steven B. Smith, Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), ch. 3; Sylvain Zac, Essais spinozistes (Paris: Vrin, 1985); Sylvain Zac, Philosophie, théologie, politique dans l'œuvre de Spinoza (Paris: Vrin, 1979); Sylvain Zac, Spinoza et l'interprétation de l'écriture (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965).
(9) Noel Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), pp. 398–9.
(14) ‘The Belgic Confession’, in The Creeds of Christendom: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Cosimo Books, 2007), Articles 3 and 6.
(15) i.e. the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
(17) Ibid. On Spinoza and Ibn Ezra, see M. Goshen‐Gottstein, ‘Bible et Judaïsme’, in Le grand siècle et la Bible, ed. Jean‐Robert Armogathe (Paris: Beauchesne, 1989); Warren Zev Harvey, ‘Spinoza on Ibn Ezra's “Secret of the Twelve” ’, in Spinoza's ‘Theologico‐Political Treatise’, ed. Yitzhak Y. Melamed and Michael A. Rosenthal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
(19) See Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, pp. 398–413.
(20) See A. Tostado, Opera Omnia, 23 vols. (Venice, 1596), V, fols.183‐4. See also Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, pp. 404–7.
(21) Tostado, Opera Omnia, V, fol.15v. Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, p. 405.
(22) A. Masius, Iosuæ imperatoris historia illustrata atque explicata (Antwerp, 1574), p. 2 (2nd pagination). See Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, pp. 407–9.
(23) C. à Lapide, Commentarius in Esdram, Nehemiam, Tobiam, Judith, Esther, et Machabæos (Antwerp, 1734); C. à Lapide, In Pentateuchum Mosis Commentaria (Paris: 1630). See Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, pp. 409–10.
(24) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 261.
(26) Hobbes, Leviathan, p. 265.
(27) See Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, p. 412. See also M. H. Goshen‐Gottstein, ‘The Textual Criticism of the Old Testament: Rise, Decline, Rebirth’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 102. 3 (1983).
(46) 1288 – 1344.
(50) Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, p. 399.
(51) J. Buxtorf, Tiberias sive commentarius masorethicus (Basel, 1620). See no.1 of the list in J. Freudenthal, Die Lebensgeschichte Spinozas in Quellenschriften, Urkunden und Nichtamtlichen Nachrichten, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1899), vol. 1, p. 342.
(52) Isaac la Peyrère, Systema theologicum, ex præadamitarum hypothesi. Pars prima (n.p., 1655).
(53) Richard H. Popkin, Isaac La Peyrère (1596 –1676): His Life, Work, and Influence (Leiden: Brill, 1987).
(54) Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico‐Politicus, ch. 14, p. 173.
(58) Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, pp. 414–22.
(59) See Benedictus de Spinoza, Traité Théologico‐Politique, ed. Fokke Akkerman, Jacqueline Lagrée, and Pierre‐François Moreau, vol. 3, Œuvres de Spinoza (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1999), ch. 9, p. 737, fn. 34.
(60) Johannes Buxtorf, Tiberias sive commentarius masorethicus (Basel, 1620), pp. 93–105. See Stephen G. Burnett, From Christian Hebraism to Jewish Studies: Johannes Buxtorf (1564–1629) and Hebrew Learning in the Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 1996), pp. 219–25; Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, p. 418.
(62) Ludovico Cappel, Critica sacra, siue de variis quæ in sacris Veteris Testamenti libris occurrunt lectionibus libri sex. Paris, 1650). See Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, p. 419.
(64) Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes, p. 419.
(65) Burnett, From Christian Hebraism, pp. 229–39.
(72) Ibid. ch. 9, p. 135. Moreau points out that Spinoza would have known a kabbalistic text published by the Amsterdam Sephardic community: Abraham Cohen de Herrera, Gate of Heaven, trans. Kenneth Krabbenhoft (Leiden: Brill, 2002), and also that Spinoza possessed a collection containing kabbalistic writings: Collecteana decerpta…ex magno opere absconditorum sapientiae by Joseph del Medigo. See no. 56 of the index in Freudenthal, Die Lebensgeschichte Spinozas.
(76) Harry Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza (New York: Meridian Books, 1958), II.258.
(77) Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico‐Politicus, ch. 15, p. 181.
(81) e.g. Petrus Cunaeus, The Hebrew Republic, trans. Peter Wyetzner (Jerusalem: Shalem Press, 2006), p. 367. See Aaron L. Katchen, Christian Hebraists and Dutch Rabbis: Seventeenth Century Apologetics and the Study of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 52.
(87) In suggesting that there might be ‘copies of the books [of the New Testament] which were written in the Hebrew language’, Spinoza seems to be supposing that the original language of the New Testament texts was Hebrew. Though this is doubtful, there is a modern theory of ‘Aramaic primacy’, which holds that the original language of the New Testament texts was a Semitic one rather than Koine Greek. For some discussion of this theory, see Joseph Augustine Fitzmeyer, The Semitic Background of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans 1997); Frank Zimmermann, The Aramaic Origin of the Four Gospels (New York: Ktav, 1979).