Religion, Reason and Nature in Early Modern Europe || The Image of Judaism in Seventeenth Century Europe

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  • Chapter 10

    The Image of Judaism in Seventeenth Century Europe

    RICHARD H. POPKIN veLA and Washington State Vniversity

    The image of Jews, ancient and modem, underwent most substantial changes in the late 17th century in the eyes of Western intellectuals. Extremely negative views about Jews had been pervasive in the late middle ages and during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Jews were seen as most dangerous menaces to Christian society, but were also expected to play a critical role in the culmination of the Christian historical drama. On the flrst score, Jews, in denying that Jesus was the Messiah and denying the divinity of Jesus, could undermine the faith of Christians. Jews seen in this light were the swom enemies of Christendom, who would go to any extremes to hurt Christians and Christianity, through usury, attacks on religious objects, blasphemies, kidnapping and killing Christian children, poisoning Christians through medical trickery etc. etc. etc. The negative images conjured up from all of this justifled driving the Jews out of most of Western Europe, enclosing them in ghettoes and placing severe restrietions on their activities, especially vis-a-vis Christians.

    On the second score, the Jews played two roles, one as the launchers and guarantors of Christianity, and the other as key flgures in the flnal events that would lead to the culmination of Christian history , the Second Coming and the onset of the Millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ on earth. Christianity only made sense as the fulflllment of prophecies stated in the Old Testament, and as the continuation of the divine history that began with Adam, and continued with Noah, Abraham, Moses and on to the history of the ancient Israelites up to the flrst century. As Pascal pointed out the Jews are the only witnesses to the truth of Christianity, so either there are no witnesses or only hostile witnesses.1 In the late middle ages and during the 16th century there was more and more concern about flnding out as much as possible about Jewish knowledge, of the Hebrew and Aramaie texts that

    181 R. Cracker (ed.), Religion, Reason and Nature in Early Modern Europe, 181-197. 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

  • 182 Richard Popkin

    formed the base of Christianity, in order to understand the bases of Christianity, plus any secret knowledge the Jews might possess.2

    The millenarian expectations that enveloped Europe from the late 15th century onward made conversion of the Jews a very central Christian activity, since according to the scenario laid out in the Book of Revelation the conversion of the Jews would be the penultimate event before the return of Jesus, who would lead the converted Jews back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple as the central seat of the reign of Jesus on earth. The conversion efforts were violent and nasty in Spain and Portugal, as weIl as in parts of Germany.3 Some Protestant theologians in England and The Netherlands and some Catholic millenarian thinkers offered rather philosemitic views, offering benign schemes for bringing about the conversion, which they foresaw as taking place in 1655 or 1656.4 In trying to figure out why the Jews had not yet converted, and how and when they would convert led to a very great deal of study of Jewish sources, materials about Jewish history and Jewish practices. It also led to a great deal of interaction between Jews and Christians in the Netherlands, and in England, as weIl as in other parts of Europe.

    In the latter part of the 17th century three different images of Jews were dominant in European thought, one that the Jews were the bearers of the pure revealed religion, and 'pure' Jews, uncontaminated by post-biblical history, would be those who would convert and lead us to the Millennium. The second view was that Judaism was the ur-religion, but it had become stultified or truncated from the first century onward. Within the ur-religion, if one could get back to it, one could find the pure and original roots of Christianity. The third view was radically different - namely that Judaism was a man-made religion like all others, developed for political reasons, and that Jews, then and now, are the most ignorant and superstitious peoples, carrying on a stupid and barbarous set of meaningless activities.

    Bach of these views led to interesting and important intellectual developments. The third one has been studied in much detail, and has been portrayed by scholars as the origin of modern secular antisemitism. The other two have been brushed aside as silly or outmoded. 1 want to discuss each of these and examine its contribution at the time and since.


    In the mid-17th century Christian millenarians found that the living Jews were resistant to their advances and their arguments because they were filled with a lot of answers that their rabbis had taught them, and were filled with a

  • The Image 0/ Judaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 183

    horror of Christianity that grew out of the way Catholics and some Protestants had treated them. They found that one Jewish intellectual, Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, was willing to discuss this with them in detail, but he made no move towards converting. He, too, gave stock Jewish answers to their claims.s Some of the millenarians began to hear of a J ewish group that had refused to be "contaminated" by the Talmud or by the rabbis, namely the Caraites who actually existed in Turkey, Egypt, the Crimea and Lithuania. Information was sought about the Caraites from people who had met Caraites. A romantic notion of Caraites developed in which the Caraites were portrayed as Jewish Protestants, Scripturalliteralists and purists. For two centuries millenarians kept including the Caraites in their programs for bringing the Jews back to the Holy Land. There was hope that these were 'pure' Jews, ready to join in millenarian history.6 Considering all that got written about Caraites at the time, one does not hear about them actually entering into dialogue with millenarian Christians or taking part in pre-millennial activities. In fact the only Caraite of note in the period is one Isaac Troki, noted for his most forceful scriptural and rational atlack upon Christian dogmas. His work circulated underground all through the 17th and 18th centuries, and was considered by Enlightenment philosophes as one of the strongest collection of arguments against Christianity.7 Another possible source of 'pure' Jews were the Lost Tribes of Israel who were supposed to reveal where they were hiding just before the onset of the Millenium. From 1492 onward there were suspicions that the people of the New World might be the Lost Tribes. And in the late 1640s reports came from the Massachusetts Bay Colony that the Indians there were probably Jews. Further a Portuguese Marrano explorer had claimed to have come across a group in the Andes mountains carrying on a Jewish religious ceremony.8 All of this exciting news led to Menasseh ben Israel writing his Hope 0/ Israel, a cautious assessment of the data tentatively holding that at least part of a lost tribe was in America.9 Menasseh's work quickly became the proof-text for the believers, Jewish and Christian.

    Efforts to find 'pure' Judaism among the Indians were not successful, especially as the settlers corrupted the Indians with alcohol. The Lost Tribes were reported located in various parts of Asia. Finally, in a work that deserves much more attention than its gets, The Memoirs of a Turkish Spy, written at the end of the 17th century, probably by adeist, reported that the Lost Tribes were in Siberia, and really had the pure religion, which turned out to be vegetarianism, pacifism and spinozism, the religion of reason! The Turkish Spy pleaded with the Jews to give up their silly rabbinical, Talmudic beliefs and to adopt the religion of reason. Thus the religion of the 'pure' Jew became the foreshadowing of the religion of the Enlightenment.1o

  • 184 Richard Popkin

    Another aspect of this positive picture of Judaism was the reasonable, benign moral picture that appears in Jean Bodin's Colloquium Heptaplomeres that circulated clandestinely in high intellectual circles in the second half of the 17th century. Bodin's dialogues were written towards the end of the 16th century, and only surfaced about fifty years later when bis heirs fought over who bad the ownership of the work. The Paris judge in the case made a copy of the work, and then copies were made of the judge's copy and copies of the work was soon in England, Germany, Sweden and Italy. Although Leibniz planned to publish it, the work was not, in fact, printed in its entirety until 1851. It was regarded as one of the most anti-Christian writings in existence. 11 In fact it is a dialogue between seven different kinds of believers. The Jew in the story is a most benign, reasonable character, who beats down all of the Christian claims. The work ends with a strong plea for universal toleration of all faiths. 12 Bodin's picture of the Jew is of a very moral, leamed and reasonable person, more so than anyone else.


    A somewhat different image of Judaism is presented in the semi-anthropological studies that began to be written as the result of the finding of so many religions in different parts of the world during the Age of Discovery. How could one account for the diversity of human religious beliefs? A theory which was very common in the 17th century, presented most thoroughly by Gerard Vossius in The Netherlands in his book on the origins of gentile theology, claimed that Judaism was the ur-religion, and every religion except Christianity is adegenerate form of Judaism. Christianity grows out of Judaism, and the Jews after the first century adhere to a stultified or truncated form of the original revelation. The original revelation was monotheistic and contained the Noachide laws, the morality by which Noah and Patriarchs lived. Various groups drifted away from original monotheism and degenerated into kinds of polytheism. In stupefying detail, Vossius and after him, Ralph Cudworth, sought to trace how the monotheistic figures in the Bible got transformed into characters in the theodicies of the pagans. Vossius believed that it was possible to trace back through pagan mythologies to the original monotheistic figures who were being distorted into semi-deities13 Once the' piethora of religions had been accounted for without having to worry about whether they could possibly be true, the issue that remained was just that of understanding Judaism vis-a-vis Christianity. It is interesting that Vossius was a close

  • The Image o/ludaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 185

    friend of Menasseh ben Israel, and published his Origins 0/ Gentile Theology, a three-volume study, as an appendix to his late son, Dionysius's edition of Maimonides tract on idolatry. Dionysius had been a student of Menasseh' S.14 Cudworth early in his career was appointed to the Whitehall commission in 1655 to decide whether Jews should be allowed to resettle in England, and he met at least twice with Menasseh when the latter was in England negotiating with the Cromwell govemment. 15 Later on, Cudworth, the Regius Professor of Hebrew, was involved with Rabbi Isaac Abendana who was translating the Mishna into Latin at Cambridge.16 So both of these theorists had significant contact with present-day Jewish intellectuals. We know that Vossius tried to get Menasseh appointed official Hebrew teacher for the city of Amsterdam so that Menasseh could get away from the restricted atmosphere of the Synagogue.17 When Menasseh was in England, Cudworth asked hirn why he was not a Christian, since for Cudworth it was the reasonable thing to be. Menasseh handed Cudworth a Jewish manuscript in Portuguese attacking the evidences for Christianity, a manuscript so upseuing that Cudworth reported it to the chief of Cromwell's intelligence service. 18

    Cudworth, Vossius, and Isaac Newton19 after them, saw the structure of their case about idolatry being adegeneration from true monotheism best explained and analyzed in the writings of the medieval Jewish sage, Moses Maimonides, many of whose works appeared in Latin in the course of the 17th century. Maimonides had tried to give a rational account of other religions, and to present Judaism as completely compatible with the best scientific understanding and with the original revelation in the Torah and the later commentaries. In his own day he was considered too rational and philosophical and condemned by various Jewish authorities. In Christendom in the 17th century he became a towering figure in explaining J udaism, paganism, and the dynamics of gentile error. For Vossius and Cudworth he was really presenting a guide for the perplexed, but it just did not go far enough to encompass the Christian emergence from J udaism, which both Vossius and Cudworth insisted was there in embryo in the ur-religion and ur-revelation.2o Newton's relations to Maimonides are more deep and complex.

    Vossius, Cudworth and Newton sought to resolve an intellectual crisis caused by the realization that most of the people of the world, ancient and modem, were, or are, polytheists, in spite of the fact that God's revelation is clearly and strictly monotheistic. The degeneracy theory attempted to account for this, making Judaism the original pure religion, then distorted into ancient paganism. The ancient Hebrew Patriarchs had the true religion. And as Philo Judaeus said in the first century, Plato was just Moses speaking Greek. Ancient wisdom, the prisca theologica came via Moses and Hermes

  • 186 Richard Popkin

    to Greece. One could trace the ways in wbich the distortions and degenerations occurred using one of the wisest of the Jews, Maimonides, as a guide.21 In terms of tbis, contemporary Jews, with a couple of exceptions, were a stultified and half-blind remnant of its original pure religion.

    Although Vossius, Cudworth and Newton were taken seriously as explainers of the bistory of religion weIl into the 18th century, a radical development of their view soon overtook them in the form that it was offered by the English deists starting with Vossius's friend, Herbert of Cherbury, and then by Charles Blount. They claimed that there was an original natural religion, and that Judaism, paganism and Christianity were aB distortions and degenerations of that. And tbis view, as we shall soon see, led to a radical reassessment of what Judaism represented in the eyes of late 17th century intellectuals.22

    Before getting to that, we have to note that millenarian theologians like John Dury saw the need to gain knowledge of the classical Jewish texts while recognizing that even the best of Jewish scholars, like bis friend, Menasseh ben Israel, were filled with Talmudic conceits that impaired their understanding of basic religious issues. Even philo-semites like John Dury said that the Pharisees, the modern Jews, are "full of superstitious imaginary foolish conceits, and thalmudicall questions and nicities in their Sermons and Books".23 Nonetheless, the lews of the 17th century were the carriers of crucial information for Millenarian Christians, like the description of what the Messianic Age would be like, what the political messiah-ruler would do, what the rebuilt Temple would be like and what it would contain. Hence Dury and his friends, especially Adam Boreei, worked for years with lewish scholars to edit the Mishna in Hebrew with vowel marking, to translate it into Spanish (for lews who did not know Hebrew) and 24 into Latin for Christians who did not know Hebrew. 24 Similarly, the millenarian mystic, Knorr von Rosenroth, spent many years editing and translating kabbalistic texts into Latin. He feIt that the true understanding of the texts had been missed by the blinded Jews, and in bis edition that should see that the message of the Kabbalah was that the lews should convert and recognize Jesus as the messiah.25

    Christian-lewish scholarship led to toleration for the lewish participants, and even, in the case of Menasseh ben Israel, that he was worthy of a professorship in a Christian commonwealth. (In lohn Dury's plan for a College of Jewish studies in London, Menasseh was to be a one of the three professors).26 Menasseh was often referred to as the Jewish philosopher, presumably setting hirn apart from the usual run of narrow-minded rabbis, who helped explain the peculiarities of Hebrew and Aramaic, or the basis of lewish customs and practices (as Leon of Modena had done),2i but who had no great vision of God's plan.

  • The Image of Judaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 187

    In one of the most remarkable works written around 1700, Jacques Basnage's Histoire des Juijs, fulfilled a plan Menasseh had had of continuing Josephus's account of Jewish bistory from the late first century down to the present.28 For bis time, Basnage did an amazing job of organizing the materials and using the available sources. One finds he was constantly consulting rabbis in Holland. And he was appreciative of the innocuous character of most of contemporary Jewry all over the world. He, in the last edition of bis work of 1715, could even neutrally report the contents of Jewish writings of the 17th century against Christianity. Basnage nonetheless saw Judaism of modern times as based on kabbalism and rabbinic lore that kept its members in darkness. He was impressed that Christian efforts to dispei the darkness had been mostly failures. The Spanish attempt to forcibly convert Jews just created fake Christians. Protestant attempts to make Jews see the light did not succeed, Basnage concluded, because the Jews had a better mastery of the biblical materials, and made better arguments. So, Basnage suggested at the very end of bis bistory that Christians should suspend conversionist activities and let God take care of it, and hopefully do it soon, so that the Millenium would begin.29

    Continuing the bistorical tradition of Josephus does, in fact, represent a somewhat positive image of modern Jews. The prevailing view, stated by all kinds of theologians, including Erasmus, was that Judaism had ossified after the first century. It was no longer the embodiment of the divine message, and its history was only interesting as a most moving illustration of what happens to those who did not accept the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. The disastrous events that happened to Jews from the fall of Jerusalern onward were seen as object lessons. Even Basnage gave this as a major reason for bis undertaking his work. Josephus was accepted as the final Jewish historian, and bis bistory of the Jews and bis account of the Roman destruction of Judea were published over and over again from 1475 onward in editions in ancient and modern languages. What Menasseh had proposed and Basnage fulfilled was to show, theology notwithstanding, that Judaism had gone on, developed, and was part of the living historical scene, not a rotting corpse left over from antiquity. Its present situation included the still active messianic movement started by Sabbatai Zevi in 1665, an intriguing kabbalistic theosophy, only made available in 1677 in Knorr von Rosenroth' s translation of Abraham Cohen Herrera' s Puerto de Cielo, which Basnage saw as the root of spinozism. 30

  • 188 Richard Popkin


    The tolerant, sometimes grudgingly admired, picture of modem Judaism was in sharp contrast to another image of the Jew and his religion that was presented by Spinoza and by the English deists. They denied the uniqueness and the divine nature of Judaism, and then went on to portray it as a primitive, even barbarous, stupid religion left over from antiquity that infected reasonable, decent Europeans. This development is described by Frank Manuel as 'the broken stafr, in that Judaism ceased to be the tree trunk on which the intelligent European world view rested.31

    EIsewhere I have suggested that Spinoza's excommunication was a non-event as far as the Amsterdam Jewish community was concerned. They had more important things to worry about than whether a bright 23-year-old was right in questioning the Bible.32 The Amsterdam Jewish community was very broad minded and present oriented. and had not yet adopted traditional Jewish orthodoxy, and was overwhelmed with immediate problems of dealing with hordes of poverty stricken Russian-Jewish refugees fleeing westward.33 Almost all of the community members, Spinoza being one of the exceptions, were born and raised as Christians in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy or Belgium. They were in the process of constituting a community for those for whom Judaism was adopted as a free and willing choice. Spinoza somehow stood on their toes, and refused to apologize, so they used a ceremony that had been employed as early as 1617 against another brash character, and cursed and excommunicated Spinoza. Although he was not present at the ceremony, he obviously took it personally. We know that he wrote a lengthy answer to the community in Spanish, which was still among his papers when he died. It is assumed that at least part of the Tractatus Theologico Politicus of 1670 reflects his anger at the Jews who has cast him OUt.34

    In the third chapter of the Tractatus Spinoza set forth the biblical account of the Exodus and the reception of the Mosaic laws in purely secular terms. He had said that the Israelites of that time did not surpass any other group in terms of knowledge and intelligence, and that they "knew scarcely anything of God, although He was revealed to them ... In truth, it is hardly likely that men accustomed to the superstitions of Egypt, uncultivated and sunk in most abject slavery, should have held any sound notions about the Deity, or that Moses should have taught them anything beyond a rule of right living" to be accepted on authority not reason.35 Further, Spinoza declared that the Jews were not chosen by God in respect to their wisdom. In fact they held "very ordinary ideas about God and nature. ,,36 A little later on, Spinoza said that every nation is on a par with every other with respect to intellect. 37 Spinoza explained what happened after the Exodus in secular political terms. The

  • The Image 0/ Judaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 189

    Jews, having escaped from Egypt, found themselves outside of any lawful community. Moses saved them by imposing his set of laws, and made them acceptable by c1aiming they were divine. The establishment of a society with certain kinds of ceremonial laws made sense in the social and political conditions of the time. However more than two thousand years later such ceremonial laws and such religiously ordered communities did not make sense, and only represented vestigial remains of an ancient heritage. On this purely secular reading of Jewish history, there is no reason for Jews to go on being Jews in the modem world. They are not part of a special divine drama. The only reason Spinoza could see for Jewish perseverance was antisemitism. And, in a most remarkable passage, Spinoza c1aimed that in Spain when the Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity, they were happily removed from Judaism and went on to live in the general society like everybodyelse.38

    Spinoza's denial of any privileged status for Jewish history or for Jews was made more and more negative in late 17th century c1andestine literature. In the very widely diffused treatise, Les Trois Imposteurs, ou I'esprit de M. Spinosa, complied around 1690-1700, in the part dealing with Moses as an impostor, the text states "TI n'y eut jamais de peuple plus ignorant que les Hebreux, ni par consequent plus credule". To be convinced of this profound ignorance, one only has to remember the state of these people in Egypt when Moses made them revolt. 39 This view, perhaps put more strongly in other c1andestine manuscripts, was generally accepted in some form by many 18th century writers such as Voltaire, Diderot and D'Holbach. The Jew as superstitious, credulous and ignorant, taken in by a political fakir and magician named Moses, appears over and over again in Enlightenment literature.

    Two other views that reinforce this negative reading of Judaism come from Pierre Bayle's treatment of Bbiblical figures in his Dictionnaire historique et critique, 1697-1702, and from the interpretations of the history of religions developed by the English deists. Starting with the latter, the first of the English deists, Charles Blount, began the secularization of all religions in his extension of Herbert of Cherbury's researches. For Blount all religions developed out of psychological and social needs, and have a more or less common structure. Blount was much attracted by Hobbes's explanation of the development of pagan religions in purely political terms, and Blount seems to have been one of the very first in England to adopt Spinoza's views. He translated the section from the Tractatus on miracles, and he is probably the translator of the edition of the complete Tractatus that appeared in 1687.40 Other deists following on Blount developed the natural history of religion in which Judaism no longer had any unique claim. It was just one more way ancient peoples dealt with their problems. Modern

  • 190 Richard Popkin

    rational scientific man no longer needed such a primitive outlook, and could instead have a religion of reason and could realize that both Judaism and Christianity were unneeded relics of the past.

    A further element in the changing image of Judaism was the way Bayle portrayed biblical heroes. In the Dictionnaire Bayle wrote at great length about many of the characters in the Old Testament (and practically none from the New Testament). He portrayed the Patriarchs, the leaders of the ancient Jews, as human, all too human. His articles on Abimilech, on Sarah, on Harn, on David and many others, became notorious as ribald renderings of the biblical stories. Bayle tumed the sacred into the profane, and insisted he was just making clear what the texts, if they were garbled, actually said, or led a reasonable reader to infer. His picture of King David as a sex fiend, a killer, a cheat, caused great constemation, and just led Bayle to make matters worse in his explanations. For Bayle, the behavior of historical figures, whether from ancient Israel or ancient Greece or Rome, from the early Christian period to the Reformation, was much the same. Sex-drives, ego-mania, dishonesty, greed, etc. accounted for what went on rather than any religious attitude.

    When seen in these terms, shom of any divine account, the Old Testament became a nasty account of a somewhat primitive group rather than a guide for moralliving. Bayle's world had very few moral heroes, and the few were not religious leaders or people who claimed they were following God's will or leaders hip. In fact, as Bayle had claimed at the beginning of his career, a society of atheists could be more moral than a society of Christians !41

    The implications were clear. If Bayle's picture was taken seriously, all history was secular history. Nobody, no matter what they might think, was really living in divine history - they were living in human history. The Bible, like the Greek myths, gave us stories from previous ages. And from all portions of human history we leam that his tory is nothing but the lies, misfortunes and catastrophes of the human race. History is not providential and is not going anywhere.

    Bayle's non-teleological reading of human history very quickly led to writing off segments of human experience as primitive, barbaric, immoral and even dangerous. In the literature about the attitudes towards Jews in the 18th century Bayle is often considered one of those who led, whether intentionally or not, to secular antisemitism. I think those who give hirn credit for fostering the opinions we will see in Volta ire and D'Holbach, tend to ignore the great difference between Bayle's demystifying and debunking the religious-moral status of biblical figures with his attitude towards modem Jews. As a persecuted Protestant he was most sympathetic to the Jews who suffered similar persecutions. In quite a few articles he bemoans

  • The Image of Judaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 191

    the fate of lews who were forced to convert either through physical or sodal pressures.42 He seemed to have antennae for news of who was of lewish origins in modern Europe, and took this not as derogatory information. He had some admiration for some lewish scholarship, like that of Maimonides, though he deplored the rabbinical nit-picking of most Jewish writers. He himself came from an area of France which has many Jewish refugees from Iberia, some of whom, like Montaigne's mother, became Protestants. One curious item that needs to be considered is that in the article '1'akkidim" about a lew who became a Moslem, Bayle deplored the fact that he had given up 'the true religion' for a false one. This is the only instance I have come across where Bayle spoke of any creed as being 'the true religion' .43 When I once discussed this with the great Bayle scholar, Elisabeth Labrousse, she replied that any Calvinist would call Judaism the true religion. I pointed out to her that in the case of Nicolas Anthoine, a Calvinist minister who became a lew, and who argued that Judaism is the true religion, his fellow Calvinist pastors first sought to get hirn to admit he was crazy, and could quietly be put away. When that failed they burned hirn at the stake in Geneva in 1632. Bayle discussed Anthoine's case several times, so he knew full well that most of the Calvinists of his time did not consider Judaism the true religion. With Bayle everything has to be balanced against other items. His article on Uriel Acosta (dacosta) displays the intolerance of 17th century Dutch lews towards deviants. In his artic1e on Spinoza, by far the longest one in the Dictionnaire, Bayle presented reports of the most nasty things the Amsterdam J ews tried to do to young Spinoza. He defended Spinoza as a most moral character, though the first person to make atheism into a system, while he also tried to display Spinoza's alleged super-rational system as full of the grossest contradictions.

    Considering the very negative view of most Europeans of the time towards Jews, Bayle not only rejected traditional anti-Jewish canards and libels, but he presented modern Jews as people as good or bad as anyone else. Bayle's plea for toleration went beyond that of John Locke in arguing for toleration of lews, Socinians, Moslems, atheists, etc. etc.

    Nonetheless it is often said that "Bayle's negative estimate of the biblical Jews led directly to the anti-Judaism of the Enlightenment".44 Somewhat similar claims are made about Jacques Basnage's assessment of medieval Jewish theologians and Father Richard Simon's assessment of Jewish Bible scholars, though the latter two actively defended Jews of their time accused of ritual murder or defaming Christianity. (Simon was even working with the Jewish representative in Paris of the false Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi, on translating the Talmud into French).45

    Frank Manuel in his book, The Broken Staff, gives the English deists and Spinoza and Bayle the credit for first taking the Jews out of providential

  • 192 Richard Popkin

    bistory, and then making them latecomers in world bistory, who borrowed their ideas from earlier ancient groups like the Egyptians, the Babyionians, and the Phoenicians rather than being the first peoples of the world who began all the forms of civilization, (as Isaac Newton had claimed). Then "What need was there then for Hebrews ancient or modem?'.46 Manuel, like Hertzberg, Poliakov and others carries the story on to the French Enlightenment fIgures, especially Voltaire and D'Holbach, who put forward a monster image of ludaism, outdoing Bayle in describing "the barbaric customs and punishments of the ancient Hebrews as profusely recorded in the Bible", in showing the treacheries and butcheries of the ancient Hebrew kings, and the falsehood of the claims about miracles that happened then, or the providential nature of that most baleful and blighted bistory . 47 The very negative image of ancient ludaism presented by Voltaire and D'Holbach also was made a judgment on present and future lews, and it contended that the negative characteristics were not acquired but rather were intrinsic features of lews at all times and places. The lews did not just have an immoral, barbaric and irrational religion which got passed on to Christians (ludaism is the foul roots upon which Christianity breeds), they had a nature, a racial nature which has been passed on from ancient times to present descendants, and which is persistent and cannot be changed by emancipating lews, by integrating them into modem societies, by education or any benevolent social policy. Voltaire in bis Essai sur [es moeurs and D'Holbach in his L'Esprit du ludaisme argued this.48 With the emerging studies going on at the time on the causes of the varieties of mankind, those who contended for polygenesis and for the fIxed nature of each kind of human being could then start to construct a case that lews constitute a distinct and separate race, outside the European family of peoples. And, as Voltaire suggested, they should therefore be kept outside of Europe, retumed to their Oriental soB.

    The leader of the Amsterdam Synagogue, the economist Isaac de Pinto, of whom Hume said, "whom I venture to call my Friend, tho' a lew,'.49 was incensed by Voltaire's writings on the subject, and wrote an answer, in which he said that Voltaire's characterization of lews as basically bad applied to the lews of German and Eastern origins, but not to nature's noblemen, the Spanish and Portuguese lews, who de Pinto pictured as among the most civilized persons in Europe.50 Voltaire's ans wer was to recommend to de Pinto that if he was so civilized, he should stop being a lew, and become a philosophe. De Pinto considered himself both, which to Voltaire was a bit like being a square circle. As Frank Manuel observes, Voltaire mercilessly ridiculed ancient ludaism as barbarous, immoral, stupid, etc. etc., then "nothing could be expected from present day lews when their

  • The Image 0/ Judaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 193

    origins were so polluted".SI D'Holbach went even a bit further. He was an atheist who despised both Judaism and Christianity.


    The concentration in the last thirty years or so on the extremely negative image of Jews offered by some of the French Enlightenment heroes (attacked or modified by Rousseau, Montesquieu and Diderot), and its relationship to the development of secular racial antisemitism, not based on any Christian views, has obscured the effect of the other two images of Jews that I have discussed, and the continued relevance of these up to the present day. The development of Nazism, and the horrors of antisemitism in Europe during the Ritler period, have made the search for the historical roots of this post-Christian horror a prime consideration. And I think it is important to see that this, in fact, go back to intellectual developments of the early Enlightenment. But this should not obscure the fact that the benign picture of the most reasonable wise Jew of Bodin's dialogues (called an abominable book by the sceptic Pierre-Daniel Huet around 1680) did lead to the picture in Lessing's Nathan the Wise, the recognition of Moses Mendelssohn as the new Socrates, and to the advocacy of toleration for Jews by many secular people of good will in Europe and America. The millenarian conception of the 'pure' Jew, who is still to playa crucial role in the finale of human history, has been part of many fundamentalist Christian scenarios centering on the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic period, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Zionism and the State of Israel. Late 18th century and early 19th century Fundamentalists were looking for the Lost Tribes in America, India, Afghanistan, were fighting for Jewish rights and emancipation so that Jews could rediscover 'pure' Judaism and then convert.52 A most curious, but not widely known episode, throws some light on this. In 1795 when the French Revolutionary army conquered The Netherlands and set up a Batavian confederation, it was quickly proposed that this confederacy adopt the same law enacted in France, giving the Jews secular citizenship. This legislation in The Netherlands was opposed both by the orthodox Calvinists and by the orthodox Jews. The two groups held that the Jews were supposed to continue their divine mission, which involved their being in temporary exile waiting to return to the Holy Land when God called them at the beginning of the Messianic era. If they became Dutch citizens, they would no longer be part of providential history!53 A similar view is held by extremely orthodox Jews in present day Israel. There is a group which refuses to recognize that there is a Jewish state, since such a

  • 194 Richard Popkin

    state can only come into being when the Messiah arrives. Whatever entity rules in Palestine and calls itself a J ewish state is engaged in blasphemy! (There is actually a rabbi from Jerusalem who has been part of the Palestine delegation to Middle East peace talks who holds this view, and holds it to the extent that he will not even meet with the Israeli delegates, since they cannot represent anytbing in God' s world). And the counter side of tbis is that there is an organization of Christi an Zionists who have an embassy in Jerusalem, and who regard the existence of a Jewish state as a providential sign presaging the end of days. These Christian Zionists are most protective of the most hawkish aspects of Israel, and are ready at a moment' s notice to help messianic Jewish groups in rebuilding the Temple when God so wills.

    The three images of the Jew that I have described are, of course, not exhaustive of the literature of the time. The problem of defining the Jew and bis or her role in the world was a crucial aspect of the redefining of the role of religion in the world circa 1700. The quest for the 'pure' Jew was a vital part of the millenarlan view, growing with the changing knowledge of the world. The picture of the benign reasonable Jew was part of a developing drive for a tolerance based on the common humanity of all peoples, even the most detested group within Christendom. The newer negative image of the Jew represented the secular thinkers' inability to find anything positive in ancient Judaism once they had detached themselves from Judeo-Christianity.

    NOTES 1 Blaise Pascal, Pensees in Oeuvres Completes, ed. J Chevalier (Paris: Gallimard, 1954),

    p.1236. 2 Cf. Popkin, "Jewish Christi ans and Christian Jews in Spain, 1492+", Judaism 41 (1992),

    pp.247-267. 3 Norrnan Cohn, The Pursuit 0/ the Millenium, (New York: 1961), and Yitzhak Baer, A

    History o/the Jews in Christian Spain, (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1961). 4 R.H. Popkin, "Introduction" and Christopher Hili, "Till the Conversion of the lews", In

    R.H. Popkin, (ed.) Millenarianism and Messianism in English Literature and Thought (Leiden, 1987), pp. 1-36.

    S See Popkin, "The Convertible lew", in L 'Herese spinoziste: la discussion sur la 'Tractatus Theologico-politicus' 1670-1677, et la reception immediate du Spinozisme edited by P. Cristofolini, (Amsterdam and Maessen, 1995).

    6 R.H. Popkin, "Les Caraites et I' ,mancipation des luifs " , Dix-Huitieme Siecle 13 (1981), 137-47, and "The Lost Tribes, and the Caraites and the English Millenarians", Journal 0/ Jewish Studies, 37 (1986), pp.213-27; and lan Van den Berg, "Proto-Protestants? The Image of the Karaites as a Mirror of the Catholic-Protestant Controvesy in the Seventeenth Century", in Jewish-Christian Relations in the Seventeenth Century, edited by 1. Van den Berg and E.G.E. van der Wall (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1988).

    7 Cf. Popkin, "Reason as the Rule of Faith in Castellio, the Early Socinians and the lews", in Aequitas, Aequalitas, Auctoritas, edited by Danie Letocha, (Paris, 1992), pp.195-203, and "lewish Anti-Christian Arguments as a Source of Irreligion From the Seventeenth to the

  • The Image o/ludaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 195

    Early Nineteenth Century", edited by Michael Hunter and David Wootton, Atheism from the Reformation to the Enlightenment, (Oxford, 1992), pp. 159-181.

    8 On the discussion of the Lost Tribes, see Popkin, "The Lost Tribes, the Caraites and the English Millenarians, " and the introduction to Menasseh ben Israel, The Hope of Israel, edited by H. Mechoulan and G. Nahon, (Oxford, 1987), pp. 1-95.

    9 This is discussed in the introduction by Mechoulan and Nahon to Menasseh, The Hope of Israel.

    10 See IP. Marana, Memoirs of a Turkish Spy living in Paris, published in French and English in eight volumes several times in the 1690s. Also see Popkin, "A Gentile Attempt to Convert the Jews to Judaism", in Israel aruJ the Nations. Essays Presented in Honor of Shmuel Ettinger, edited by Shmuel Almog et al (Jerusalern, 1987), pp. xxv-xlv.

    11 See Popkin, "The Dispersion of Bodin's Dialogues in England, Holland and Germany", lHf, 49 (1988), pp. 157-160.

    12 See Jean Bodin, Colloquium of the Seven about Secrets of the Sublime, translated with introduction and notes by Marion L.D. Kuntz, (Princeton: 1975).

    13 Gerard Vosius, De Theoligia gentili et physiologia Christiana, sive de origine ac progressu idololatriae, deque naturae mirandus quibus homo addueitur ad Deum, (Amsterdam, 1641).

    14 On Gerard Vossius, De Theoligia (Amsterdam, 1641), Ralph Cudworth, The True Intellectual System ofthe Universe, (London, 1678).

    15 See Cecil Roth, The Life of Menasseh ben Israel, Philadelphia: Jewish Publications Society, 1834; and David S. Katz, Philo-Semitism in England, 1603-1655, (Oxford: OUP, 1982), p.205 and 234.

    16 See D.S. Katz, "The Abendana Brothers and the Christian Hebraists of Seventeenth Century England" , Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 40:(1989), pp.28-52.

    17 C.S.M. Rademaker, The Life and Works ofGerardus Vossius (Assen, 1981), p.264-65. 18 This is discussed in Richard Kidder, A Demonstration ofthe Messias; in which the Truth of

    the Christian Religion is Proved Espeeially against the lews (3 vols, London: 1684-1700), vol. 2, sigs A4-a4v, and vol.3, iii-iv. The preface to Ralph Cudworth, The True Intellectual System cites a letter from Cudworth to Thurloe describing the former's outraged reaction to the manuscript he had received from Menasseh. See D.S. Katz, Philo-Semitism, p.234 and note.

    19 Newton discussed this in his Chronology of Aneient Kingdoms AmeruJed and his unpublished "Origins of Gentile Theology", in the Yahuda manuscripts in the National Library ofIsrael in Jerusalem, 16.2 and 17.1 and 2.

    20 On Maimonides' role in 17th century Christian thought, see Popkin, "Newton and Maimonides", in A Straight Path. Studies in Medieval Philosophy and Culture. Essays in Honor of Arthur Hyman, edited by Ruth Link-Salinger, et al., (Washington: 1988), pp.216-29, and idem, "Some Further Comments on Newton and Maimonides", in J.E. Force and R.H. Popkin, Essays on the Content, Nature, aruJ Injluence of Isaac Newton's Theology, (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), pp. 1-7.

    21 See Paolo Rossi, The Dark Abyss of Time. The History of the Earth aruJ the History of Nations from Hooke to Vico, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane, (Chicago: 1984); and Popkin, "The Crisis of Polytheism and the Answers of Vossius, Cudworth, and Newton", in Force and Popkin, Essays on Newton's Theology, pp.9-25.

    22 See Popkin, "Polytheism, Deism and Newton", in Force and Popkin, op. eit. pp.27-42, and idem, "The Deist Challenge", in From Persecution to Toleration: The Glorious Revolution and Religion in EnglaruJ, edited by O.P. Grell et al (Oxford: OUP, 1991),

  • 196 Richard Popkin

    pp.195-215; and lustin Champion, 1he Pillars 0/ Priestcraft Shaken, (Cambridge: CUP, 1992).

    23 Dury's introduction to Thomas Thorowgood, Jewes in America, or Probabilities that the Americans are 0/ that Race (London, 1650). See Popkin, "Lost Tribes and Caraites", p.218.

    24 Cf. Popkin, "Some Aspects of lewish-Christian Theological Interchanges in Holland and England 1640-1700", in Van den Berg and Van der wall, op.cit., 3-32; and Katz, "The Abendana Brothers " .

    25 Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, Kabbala Denudata (Sulzbach, 1677-8); Allison Coudert, "A Christian Platonist's Kabbalist Nightmare", JHf 35 (1975), pp.633-52: and Gershom Scholem, article "Knorr von Rosenrtoth", Encyclopedia Judaica, 10; 1118.

    26 Popkin, "The First College of lewish Studies", Revue des Etudes juives, 143:(1984), pp. 351-364.

    27 Leon of Modena, The History 0/ the Present Jews Throughout the World. Being an Ample tho Succinct Account 0/ their Customs, Ceremonies, and Manner 0/ Living, at this time, trans. Simon Ockley, (London, 1707). The work first appeared in Italian, and was translated into French by Richard Simon in 1681.

    28 lacques Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, first published in 1707, translated into English in 1708, and reissued in an enlarged French edition, 1716. In Menasseh's list of projects he was working on that appears in his last published work, Vindicae Judaeorum, 1656, he listed a continuation of losephus's History 0/ the Jews.

    29 In the English edition, Basnage said that the Second Coming "must be accomplished in the year 1716". p. 751.

    30 Cf. Popkin, "Spinoza, Neoplatonie Kabbalist?", in Lenn Goodman, ed., NeoPlatonism and Jewish Thought, (Albany, New York, 1992), pp. 387-409.

    31 Cf. Frank Manuel, The Broken Staff, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1992). 32 Cf. R.H. Popkin, "Notes from the Underground: The Marranos of Amsterdam", New

    Republic, May 21, 1990, pp. 35-41. Also in 1he Third Force in Seventeenth-Century Thought, (Leiden, 1992), pp. 149-171.

    33 Cf. Popkin, "Notes from Underground". 34 What is referred to as "the oldest biography of Spinoza", attributed to lean-Maximillien

    Lucas, (published by Abraham Wolf, 1he Oldest Biography 0/ Spinoza, (New York: 1928), lists amongst Spinoza's effects after his death, an "Apologie de M. Spinosa " , which has been assumed to be his original answer to the Synagogue that has excommunicated him.

    35 Benedictus Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise, Elwes translation, (New York, 1968). 36 lbid., pp. 46-47. 37 lbid., p. 56. 38 Spinoza, Theological-Politico Treatise, chapter. 3. 39 Pierre R, (ed.), Traite des trois imposteurs, (Saint-Etienne; Universite de la Region Rhone-

    Alpes, 1973), p. 46. 40 Cf. Champion, op. cit., and Popkin, "The Deist Challenge". 41 On Bayle see, E1isabeth Labrousse, Bayle, (Oxford Press, 1983); and Popkin,

    "Introduction" to Selections /rom Bayle's Historical and Critical Dictionary, (Indianapolis: 1991), pp.viii-xxix.

    42 See Popkin, "Pierre Bayle and the Conversions of the lews," in De I'Humanisme aux Lumieres. Bayle et le protestantisme. Metanges en ['honneur d'Elisabeth Labrousse, edited by M. Magdelaine, Maria-Christina Pitassi, Ruth Whelan and Antony McKenna (Paris and Oxford, 1996) pp.635-644.

  • The Image o/ludaism in Seventeenth Century Europe 197

    43 Elisabeth Labrousse has written extensively after our discussion about the sad case of Nicholas Anthoine, based on the docurnents in Geneva.

    44 Arthur Henzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews. The Origins 0/ Modem Anti-Semitism. (New York, 1968), p. 46.

    45 See Richard Simon's letter to Isaac La Peyrere, 27 mai 1670, in Simon, Lettres choisies, (Rotterdarn, 1702), Tome 2, pp. 12-17.

    46 Manuel, The Broken Staff, p. 1Ol. 47 Ibid., chap. 8. 48 On these works, see Hertzberg, op. cit., and Uon Poliakov, The History 0/ Anti-Semitism

    from Voltaire to Wagner, (New York, 1975). 49 Hurne's letter to Thomas Rous, 28 August 1767, published in Popkin, "Hume and Isaac de

    Pinto, 11. Five New Letters" in W.B. Todd, Hume and the Enlightenment. Essays Presented to Emest Campbell Mossner, (Edinburgh and Austin, 1974), p.1 04.

    so See Popkin, "Hume and Isaac de Pinto", Texas Studies in Literature and Language 12 (1970), pp.417-30.

    SI Manuel, op. cit., p. 20l. 52 C.F. Popkin, "The Christian Roots ofZionism", Contentions, 2 (1993), pp.99-125. 53 See S.E. Bloemgarten, "De Amsterdarnse Joden gedurende deerste Jaren can de Bataafse

    Republiek. 1795-98, "Studia Rosenthaliana 2 (1968), pp.42-65.


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