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Biblical Criticism by Bernard Spinoza

The study and investigation of Biblical writings was propelled by the philosopher Spinoza (1632-77). As a Jew it was the Hebrew Bible that concerned him most. He excused himself from commenting on the New Testament on the ground that he lacked an adequate knowledge of Greek, but he did suggest that his approach to studying the Old Testament could apply also to New Testament.

Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise was a systematic critique of Judaism published in 1670. A follower of the Enlightenment, Spinoza believed that "revealed" religion should involve humanity's capacity to reason, analyze and judge rather than followed simply by blind faith.

His study of the structure of the Bible led him to conclude that it was essentially a compiled text of many different authors with diverse backgrounds. He doubted the traditional claim of Judaism that the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) were composed entirely by Moses.

He also rejected the traditional Judaic view that the Jews had been especially chosen by God. In tribal times the ancient Hebrews, like others, had their own gods, but by the 17th century the gods, or God, was believed to have a more universal interest, and Spinoza held to the view that all peoples were on a par with each other and that God had not elevated one people over another people.

Spinoza posited what in his time was a novel view of the Torah. He argued that the Torah was something of a particular time and place, that it was essentially a political constitution of the ancient state of Israel. He believed that because the ancient state of Israel no longer existed, its constitution was no longer valid.

He shocked many of his contemporaries with his view that the Torah embodied an inadequate conception of God insofar as the prophets attributed to God such emotions as jealousy and anger, love and mercy.

Spinoza did not believe in miracles and interpreted Torah descriptions of miracles as either misunderstandings of a natural event or deliberate falsifications.

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