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7 - The Recourse to Sacred History before the Enlightenment: Spinoza’s Theological–Political Treatise

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2023

John Robertson
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

John Robertson explores the terms in which Spinoza adapted sacred history, as recorded in the Jewish Bible and Christian Old Testament, to support his political thinking in the Theological–Political Treatise (1670). Rather than reading this work in the light of Spinoza’s philosophy, the focus of most scholarship, Robertson argues that Spinoza sought to understand sacred history on its own terms, as constituted by the three ‘constants’ of revealed religion: prophecy, a sacred text, and the ‘Word of God’ contained within the text. Spinoza’s understanding of these concepts is shown to have shaped the lessons which he proceeded to draw from the history of the Hebrews, their religious customs and their commonwealth. Spinoza’s approach to sacred history is then compared with that of Hobbes, drawing out both similarities and differences. A final section asks what became of this interest in sacred history as a source for political thinking in the Enlightenment, suggesting that its repudiation by some (such as Rousseau) was offset by a shift in the interest of others (such as Vico) from the Hebrews to the gentiles.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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