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The Word made Text: Benedict de Spinoza and Richard Simon confront the Bible

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Stephan Ursprung.

Two works, among many others, were consigned to the flames in the late seventeenth century: Benedict de Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus (1670) and Richard Simon’s Histoire critique du Vieux Testament (1678). Their authors suffered comparable fates, with Spinoza excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam, and Simon permanently excluded from the Oratory in Paris. Spinoza and Simon’s books both appeared to pose a common threat to the authority of the Bible. In proposing to consider it strictly as a historical document they threatened to undermine its status as Sacred Scripture. The best efforts of the secular and religious authorities would be in vain: published clandestinely in the Netherlands and furtively smuggled around Europe, the illicit publication of these works was a watershed moment for what would in time become known as the ‘Enlightenment’.

This is a compelling part of one of the central stories of European history, but is it true? One way of approaching this question is to return to Spinoza and Simon’s treatments of the biblical text and, in examining what it was they were doing, reassess how far their work can be brought into such an overarching narrative. This talk will focus on Simon’s work. It will show how the use of new, previously unstudied, evidence alters our perception of his achievement in the Histoire critique, and how this begins to form the basis for a new account of late seventeenth-century intellectual change.

This talk is part of the Caius MCR/SCR research talks series.

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