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Theologico-Political Treatise 1862/Chapter 3

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OF THE ELECTION OF THE HEBREW NATION. WAS THE GIFT OF PROPHECY PECULIAR TO THE JEWS?


True happiness consists in Fruition of The Good, not in any glory or advantage which one alone enjoys to the exclusion of others. He who esteems himself blessed because he alone enjoys, or enjoys more than others, for he is more prosperous in any or in every way than his neighbour, — that man, I say, knows nothing of real happiness, of the soul's true joy; such happiness as he tastes, if it be not childish or merely sensual, has its source in envy and evil disposition alone. Man's true happiness consists in wisdom and understanding, in the study of truth, and no wise in this, that he is wiser than others, or that the rest of the world are without true understanding; for such a conclusion would not add to his wisdom or his real happiness. Whoever should rejoice on such grounds would, in fact, rejoice in the misfortunes of others, and so show himself envious and evil-disposed, and as knowing nothing of true wisdom and peace of mind. When Scripture, therefore, in order to keep the Jews obedient to the laws, declares that God had elected them to himself in preference to other nations (Deut. x. 15), that he was nigh to them and not to others in the same degree (Ib. iv. 4—7), that to them alone he had prescribed just laws (Ib. ver. 8); and, lastly, setting others aside, that he had made himself known to them alone (Ib. ver. 32, &c.), we can only conclude that such language was used as adapted to the mental state and capacity of the Jews, who, as has been shown in the preceding chapter, and, as Moses himself bears witness (Deut. ix. 6, 7), knew nothing of happiness; for it is obvious that they as a people would have been no less happy and prosperous had God called all other nations to salvation as well as them. God would have been no less propitious to the Jews had he chosen to be equally near to other nations; neither would the laws he gave them have been less just, nor they themselves less understanding, had he given like laws to all; neither would the signs and wonders he showed them have less proclaimed his power had they been manifested over a wider range, nor would the Jews themselves have been held less bound to worship him had he elected to pour out his bounties upon all mankind alike. If God, therefore, says to Solomon (1 Kings iii. 12) that he had given him more wisdom than any man who had ever lived, or who should ever come after him, this is probably to be understood as meaning no more than that God had given him a very large measure of understanding, — at all events, it seems impossible to believe that God, for the greater delectation of Solomon, had engaged henceforward to bestow no such ample measure of understanding on any man as he had shed on him; for such a promise could have added nothing to Solomon's wisdom, nor would a wise king have been less thankful for the Divine beneficence, had he been informed that God intended to be no less bountiful to all.

But yet, and admitting that Moses spoke to the Jews, in the passages just quoted, according to their powers of apprehension, we would not be held as denying that God had delivered those laws of the Pentateuch to them alone, or that he had spoken with them only, or, in fine, as saying that the Jews had not seen such wonders as no other people had ever witnessed. "What we meant to say amounts only to this, that Moses, for the reasons especially assigned, proceeded as he did, in order that he might the more easily lead the Jews to the worship of the true God; and then we desired to show that the Jews excelled other nations neither in natural knowledge, nor in piety, but in very different things. In other words — and here with Scripture I use language on a level with their capacities — I say that the Jews were plainly chosen by God before all other nations for reasons other than because of the good lives they led, or the sublime speculations in which they indulged. It will now be my business to show, seriatim, on what grounds the preference was founded.

Before I begin, however, I would explain in a few words what I understand by the government of God; by the outward and inward aid of God; by the election of God; and finally, by what is called fate, fortune, or destiny. By government or guidance of God I understand the fixed and immutable order of nature, or concatenation of natural things; for I have already said, and shall have further occasion to show, that the universal laws of nature, according to which all things come to pass, are nothing else than the eternal decrees of God, which always involve eternal truth and eternal necessity. Whether we say, therefore, that all things happen according to the laws of nature, or are ordered by the decree and direction of God, we say the same thing. Again, since the power of all things natural is nothing but the power of God himself, by whom alone all things are determined and come to pass, it follows that whatever man, who is himself a part of nature, does for his help and the upholding of his being, or whatever nature presents to him for this end, without his co-operation, is all in virtue of the divine power, whether it acts through human nature or by means that are external to the nature of man. Whatever, therefore, human nature can accomplish of itself towards the preservation of existence may with right be called the inner help of God, and whatever happens for our good through the force of things external to us may be entitled the outer help of God. On this ground we easily gather what is to be understood by the election of God; for, inasmuch as no one does anything save by the predetermined order of nature, in other words, by the eternal decree and direction of God, it follows that no one chooses for himself a certain course of life, or does aught save by the special vocation of God, who elects him in preference to others for this course of life, or for this peculiar work. Lastly, by fortune, or destiny, I understand nothing more than the direction of God, in so far as he governs human affairs by outward and unexpected causes. These things premised, we return to our subject, which is to discover on what grounds the Hebrew nation was said to have been chosen by God for his people in preference to all other nations.

All that we rightly desire may be referred to these three heads, viz. to know things by their first causes; to subdue our passions, or acquire virtuous habits; to pass our lives in safety and in health. The means which subserve the first and second heads directly, and which in so far may be regarded as proximate and efficient causes, inhere in the nature of man himself; so that the attainment of knowledge and of virtuous habits lies entirely within our own power, or depends on the laws of human nature alone. For this reason it may be confidently maintained that these gifts belong to no nation in particular, but are common, and always were common, to the whole of the human race; unless, indeed, we incline to dream, and fancy that nature formerly created different kinds of men. The means, again, which insure security of life and good health, are principally comprised in externals, and are therefore spoken of as gifts of fortune; because they mostly depend on the current of external things, of the reason of which we are often ignorant, so that here the foolish may be as happy or unhappy as the wise. Still, human forethought and watchfulness are of vast avail in attaining security of life, and in escaping injury from other men, from savage beasts and from adverse influences. To this end reason and experience alike declare that there is no better or more certain way than the establishment of a society or state, governed by definite laws, with a certain district or country for a dwelling-place, the strength of all the members being concentrated in one body, as it were, that, namely, of the Society, Commonwealth, or State. To the formation and preservation of such a society, however, no small amount of genius and watchfulness is required; wherefore, that society will be the most secure and lasting, and least liable to the assaults of accident, which is founded and administered by wise, prudent, and watchful men; as, on the other hand, the state established and ruled over by men of a ruder mould will be more dependent on fortuitous events, and less enduring. Should a state so founded and governed endure for any considerable length of time, this will be due to the guidance of another, not of itself; and should it have survived great dangers, and affairs have even prospered with it, then will it be impossible for the people not to admire and to adore the guiding hand of God (i.e. in so far as God acts by hidden external causes, and not by means inherent in the mind and nature of man), for then nothing will have happened otherwise than unexpectedly and against likelihood, in ways and by means, indeed, which would be apt to be regarded as miraculous.

Now, nations are particularly distinguished from one another by the institutions and laws under which they live, and by which they are governed, and it was on such grounds, and not by reason of superior intelligence or nobler qualities of soul, that the Jews were chosen by God in preference to other nations, their polity being calculated to secure prosperity, to extend their empire, and to endure for a great length of time. All this appears very plainly from Scripture itself; for whoever peruses the Hebrew Scriptures, even in a cursory manner, will perceive that the Jews excelled other nations in this only, that they conducted the business that bears upon security of life successfully, and that they overcame many great dangers, and this especially by the outward aid of God; in other respects the Jews appear to have been upon a par with other nations, to which God herein was as propitious as to them. In respect of understanding, indeed (as has been shown in the preceding chapter), the Jews were not distinguished: they entertained very poor notions of nature and of God, and were not therefore elected of God on the score of superior understanding; neither could it have been by reason of the virtuous and true lives they led; for in this particular other neighbouring nations were their equals, and very few elect could have been found among them. The election or calling of the Jews, therefore, was grounded on their temporal prosperity and the fitness of their system of polity for its end; and we never find that God promised anything but this to the patriarchs and their successors.[1] Even for obedience to the law nothing whatever is promised beyond continuing supremacy to their power, and the sensual enjoyments of life; as, on the other hand, for contempt of the law they are threatened with a cancelling of the bond that bound them to Jehovah, with an end to their power, and disasters of different kinds. Nor is this wonderful, for the end of all society, the purpose of all authority, is security of life and estate; but no authority can exist without laws to be observed by all; for were the several members of any society to bid adieu to law, they would by this alone dissolve their society, and bring the authority it had ever possessed to an end. Nothing therefore could be promised to the Jewish people for steady observance of their law but security of life, and the comforts and conveniences that thence ensue;[2] and for disobedience no more certain penalty could be predicted than dissolution of their empire and the evils that usually follow such an event, to say nothing of certain special evils which, from the peculiar constitution of their society, would have befallen them alone. But on this matter it is not necessary to speak here at greater length. I only add that the laws of the Old Testament were revealed and prescribed to the Jews alone, for when God chose them to form a peculiar people, and to found a new state, they necessarily required peculiar laws. Whether God also prescribed especial laws to other nations, and revealed himself to them in a prophetic manner, or with those attributes with which they were accustomed to believe God to be endowed, does not appear to me quite certain. This much, however, is manifest, and to be gathered from Scripture, that other nations possessed authority and particular laws by the outward providence or direction of God; in illustration of which position I quote no more than two passages from Scripture. 1st, In Genesis (xiv. 18, 19, 20) it is said the Melchisedek was king of Jerusalem, and priest of the most high God, and that he blessed Abram, as it was the privilege of the priest to do (vide Numbers vi. 23), and, lastly, that Abram for the glory of God gave a tithe of all spoil to this priest of God; particulars which plainly show that God, before he had founded the Hebrew nation, had already established kings and priests in Jerusalem, and prescribed rites and laws for their observance; but whether this were done prophetically is not, as I have said, sufficiently determined. Of this, however, I feel assured, that whilst Abraham abode there he lived religiously, and in conformity with the laws of the country; for Abraham never received any special law or ritual from God, and it is said, nevertheless (Genesis xxvi. 5), that Abraham obeyed the voice and kept the statutes and laws of God, words which without doubt are to be understood as referring to the voice, charges, statutes, and laws of the God of king Melchisedek. 2nd, The Jews are addressed in the name of God in these words, by the prophet Malachi (i. 10, 11): "Who is there among you that would shut the doors [of my temple] for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on my altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, &c. — for from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering, for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts." Now these words, inasmuch as without violence they can be held to refer to no time but that in which they were spoken, more than sufficiently show that the Jews in those days were not more cherished of God than other nations; nay, that God at that time was manifested even more to other nations by miracles than to the Jews, who had again partially and without miraculous interposition regained their empire. At a later period the Jews adopted the rites and ceremonies of the nations accepted of God.

But I pass on; for, with the end I have in view, it is enough for me to have shown that the election of the Jews was based on nothing but their temporal prosperity and liberty; to have made known the manner and means by which their position as a state was obtained, and the nature of the laws under which they lived, in so far as they bear upon the establishment of their peculiar polity; and, finally, the manner in which these laws were revealed. In other respects, in those conditions especially in which the true happiness of man consists, the Jews were no more than the equals of other nations. When we find it stated in Scripture, therefore (Deut. iv. 7), that the gods of no other nation were so nigh to them as God was nigh to the Jews, we are to understand this as referring to temporal superiority alone, and to the time when the Jews were the subjects of so many miraculous interpositions; for in respect of understanding and virtue, that is, of true happiness, God, as has been already said, and as reason proclaims, is equally propitious to all; a truth, indeed, which is abundantly attested by Scripture also, for see what the Psalmist says (Ps. cxlv. 18), "God is nigh unto all them who call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth;" and further (Ib. ver. 9), "The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works." In the 33rd Psalm (ver. 15) it is distinctly said that God gave the same understanding to all. Here are the words, "He fashioneth their hearts alike," heart being here synonymous with understanding, the Jews regarding the heart as the seat of the soul and of intelligence, a fact which I presume to be sufficiently well known. From Job (xxviii. 28) we learn that God said to man, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding." Job, therefore, although a Gentile, was most accepted of all men by God, inasmuch as he surpassed all others in piety. Still more to the point is Jonah (iv. 2), who, speaking generally, declares God to be gracious, merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness, and ready to repent of the evil he had intended to do. "Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand?" Let us conclude, therefore, since God is equally propitious to all, that every one beyond the pale of the Jewish society, save in the particular respects already indicated, was just as much favoured as any of its members; in short, that the Jew and the Gentile were alike. Now as the business of the prophet was not so much to teach the laws peculiar to his nation as the rules of a virtuous life, there is no doubt but that other nations had their prophets, and that the gift of prophecy was by no means peculiar to the Jews. This is a matter borne witness to by profane as well as sacred history; and although it does not appear from the books of the Old Testament that other nations had so many prophets as the Jews, or, indeed, that any Gentile prophet was ever expressly commissioned by God, this is of no moment, for the Jews have been little careful to write the history of any other people but themselves. It is enough if in the Old Testament we find mention made of more than one Gentile and uncircumcised man — Noah, Enoch, Abimelech, Balaam, &c. — who appeared as prophets; and then the later Hebrew prophets were sent not only to their own people, but to all other nations by God. Ezekiel prophesied to all the nations then known; Obadiah, so far as we know, to the Idumeans alone, and Jonah to the Ninevites especially. Isaiah not only bewails and predicts the misfortunes that were to befall the Jews, and the joyful restoration of that people, but he does the same in regard to other nations, as, for instance, where he says (xvi. 9), "I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh," &c. In chapter xix. (19—25) he first foretells calamities to the Egyptians, and then their restoration to favour, — that God "should first smite and then heal them;" that he should "send them a Saviour, a great one, who should deliver them;" that, entreated of them, he should be known to Egypt and the Egyptians; and that, finally, they doing sacrifice and oblation, the Lord of hosts should bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance," — words which are indeed every way worthy of especial remark. Jeremiah, lastly, is called the prophet, not of the Hebrew people alone, but of the nations (vide Jer. i. 5). He also laments over the evils which he prophesies, and rejoices over the good which is to follow, "Therefore will I howl for Moab, therefore mine heart shall sound for Moab like a drum"[3] (xlviii. 31, 36); and then he foretells the re-establishment of the Moabites, as well as of the Egyptians, Ammonites, and Elamites. Wherefore it is not matter of question that other nations had their prophets like the Jews, who prophesied to them and to the Jews likewise, and although Scripture makes mention of one only — Balaam, to whom the future, as affecting the Jewish and other nations, was revealed, it is not to be presumed that Balaam prophesied but once upon the particular occasion indicated; indeed, from his history it appears clearly enough that he had shown himself endowed with prophetic and divine gifts at other times. When Balak orders Balaam to be summoned before him, for example (Numb. xxii. 6), he says, "For I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed;" words which show that Balaam was endowed with the same virtue as that conferred by God on Abraham (Gen. xii. 3). Balaam, then, as accustomed to prophetic visitations, replies to the messengers that he must be lodged for the night, and in the morning that he would bring them what the Lord should speak to him, informing Balak himself (Numb. xxiv. 4), that "he (Balaam) hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, fallen into a trance, but having his eyes open." Then when he had blessed the Jews by command of God, he began, as he was wont, to prophesy of other nations, and to predict future events. All these things sufficiently indicated that Balaam had always been a prophet, or had frequently used his gift of prophecy, and that he possessed the quality of soul which of all things made prophets sure of their predictions, viz. a mind only disposed to justice and truth; for he could neither bless nor curse any one of himself, as Balak supposed, but only those whom God desired that he should bless or curse; wherefore, he replied to Balak that though he should give him his house full of gold and silver, he would not go beyond the commandment of God, to do either good or evil of his own mind, "But what the Lord sayeth that will I speak." God, however, was angry with Balaam for setting out on his journey towards Balak, as he was also with Moses when about to return into Egypt, though it was by command of the Lord (Exod. iv. 24), and likewise with Samuel, because he had taken money for the exercise of his prophetic powers (1 Sam. ix. 2, 8); "For there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not" (Eccles. vii. 20). The sayings of Balaam indeed appear to have been held of great weight by God; and his power of cursing must have been extraordinary, for we find it mentioned oftener than once in Scripture that God, to show his great mercy and loving-kindness towards the Israelites, refused to hear Balaam, and even changed his cursing into blessing; whereby we may conclude that he was much regarded of God, for the sayings and maledictions of the impious are unheeded by the Supreme. Balaam is to be esteemed a true prophet, then, though by Joshua he is called a "soothsayer" (xiii. 22); we must conclude, therefore, that this epithet was used in no bad sense, and that they whom the Gentiles called soothsayers and augurs were true prophets, whilst they whom Scripture frequently denounces and condemns were false soothsayers, who as false prophets deceived the Jews, as clearly appears from many passages in Holy Writ.

Let us conclude, therefore, that the gift of prophecy was not peculiar to the Jews, but was common to them and the nations around them. The Pharisees, however, eagerly contend for the contrary view, maintaining that the divine gift of prophecy was given to the Jewish nation alone, whilst in other nations future events were foretold by virtue of some — I know not what — demoniacal power, which superstition has not yet defined. The part of Scripture on which they particularly rely, as authority for their opinion, is that verse of Exodus (xxxiii. 16) where Moses says to God, "For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people, have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us? So shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth;" a verse from which they pretend to infer that Moses besought God to be nigh to the Israelites alone, reveal himself exclusively to them by prophecy, and withhold this grace from all other nations. Now to me it appears absurd to suppose that Moses should have grudged the presence of God to other nations, or that he would have dared to ask anything of the kind imagined from the Supreme. The truth is that Moses, after he came to know the genius and contumacious temper of his nation, saw clearly that he would never succeed in the course on which he had entered without many and great miracles, and the singular external aid of God; nay, that without such aid the Jews would even perish utterly as a people. It was, therefore, that he might have testimony to God's will and wish towards them that he sought the singular outward and manifest assistance of God. Thus he says (Exod. xxxiv. 9), "If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiff-necked people," &c., where the reason plainly appears for the unusual aid he required, viz. that they were a stiff-necked people whom he had to guide; though, indeed, the motive is still more clearly exposed in the answer he immediately receives, which is to this effect (Ib. ver. 10): "Behold, I will make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation," &c. Here Moses, according to my interpretation, treats of the election of the Israelites only, and asks for nothing else from God. In the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, however, I find a passage (iii. 1, 2) which moves me greatly, wherein Paul appears to teach otherwise than we do here; he says, "What advantage then hath the Jews? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way, chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." But if we consider the doctrine which Paul is here enforcing, I think we shall not only find nothing repugnant to the view we have taken, but even derive countenance and support for it; for Paul shortly after adds (Ib. ver. 29), that "God is not the God of the Jews, but of the Gentiles also;" as he had said previously (ii. 25, 26): "For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?" Then he says (iv. 9) that God's blessing comes upon uncircumcision as well as upon circumcision, and that (ver. 15) where no law is, there is no transgression. Whence it appears most manifestly (as indeed has already been shown from the Book of Job) that the law, under which all alike should live, was revealed absolutely to all, — that general law, to wit, which alone points the way to true virtue, not that particular law which was adapted to especial ends of empire, and accommodated to the genius of an individual nation. Finally, Paul concludes that as God is the God of all nations, alike propitious to all, and that as all were equally under sin and the law, therefore had God sent his Christ to all mankind, to free them alike from the bondage of the law, and that they should no longer do justice because of the commands of the law, but from inherent rectitude of soul. Paul, therefore, teaches the very doctrine in favour of which we have above been arguing. So that when he says, "To the Jews alone were intrusted the decrees of God," he must be understood as meaning either that the Jews alone had a written law delivered to them, whilst other nations received their laws mentally by revelation or imagination; or Paul may be speaking on the level of the Jewish capacity and commonly received opinions (and here, indeed, he is combating objections which the Jews alone would be apt to raise), in conformity with his principle when teaching things which he had partly seen and partly heard, of being Greek with the Greeks and Jew with the Jews.

We have only further to reply to the views of those who would persuade themselves that the election of the Jews was not temporary and for political reasons only, but eternal and from special favour; for they say the Jews are still seen, so many years after the dissolution of their empire, scattered over every country and rejected by every nation, yet subsisting as a distinct people, in a way that has happened to no other nation. And then the Scriptures certainly seem in many places to teach that God had elected the Jews to himself for ever; so that, though their empire is gone, they nevertheless remain the chosen people of God. The passages particularly pointed to as teaching this eternal election of the Jews most clearly are the following: 1st, The 32nd and 33rd chapters of Jeremiah, where the prophet declares "that the seed of Israel should remain a nation to the Lord for ever, that God would make an everlasting covenant with them, nor turn away from them to do them good, and that they should be as the host of heaven that cannot be numbered." 2nd, The 20th chapter of Ezekiel, where the Jews are promised, though they have forsaken the worship of the true God, that they shall be gathered together again from all the countries over which they have been scattered, and led into the wilderness, even as their fathers had been brought out of Egypt into the desert; and at length, the rebellious and erring having been purged from among them, that they should be led to the holy mountain, where the whole of the house of Israel should serve Jehovah together. There are other passages besides these, which are often referred to, especially by the Pharisees; but when I have replied to the two particularly quoted I shall think that I have answered all. And my task will be neither long nor difficult, when I have shown from Scripture itself that God did not elect the Jews for all eternity, but only on the same conditions as he had already elected the Canaanites, who also, as we have seen above, had their priests religiously to conduct the worship of their divinity, and whom God nevertheless subsequently rejected on account of their luxury, and indifference, and evil courses. And Moses admonishes the Israelites (Levit. xviii. 27, 28) that they should not defile themselves by incests as the Canaanites had done, lest the earth should cast them forth, as it had cast out the nations that dwelt in those lands before them. In Deuteronomy again (viii. 19, 20) we see the Jews threatened, in so many words, with total ruin and rejection in case of disobedience: "And it shall be if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish; as the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish, because ye would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God." There are indeed many passages of similar import in the Old Testament, in which we read plainly that God had not absolutely, unconditionally, and for ever, elected the Hebrew nation to himself. If, therefore, the prophets be found preaching to the Jews a new and eternal covenant of grace and love, this must be understood as having reference to the good and pious only among them; for in the very same chapter of Ezekiel which is quoted above, we find it distinctly stated that God had separated the rebels and short-comers from them; and in Zephaniah (iii. 11, 12) God says, "Then I will take away out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride, and I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord." Now as the election here plainly points to true goodness, it is not to be thought that it had reference to the pious among the Jews only, but that it extended to Gentile nations also, and we have shown that other nations besides the Jews had their faithful prophets, who made promises to the pious among their peoples, who found themselves consoled and edified thereby. Hence the eternal covenant of grace and mercy, under consideration, is to be esteemed as of universal application; a view the correctness of which appears from another passage of Zephaniah (iii. 9, 10). Here therefore no difference need be admitted between the Jews and Gentile nations; neither is any election to be imagined other than that which we have described. And if the prophets are found mixing with their account of this election, which refers to true virtue alone, many things about sacrifice and other ceremonies, the Temple and its rebuilding, &c., this is only from custom and wont, and because it was usual with the prophets to explain spiritual matters of prophecy by such means, and that they might speak with effect to the Jews, whose oracles they were, of the restoration of their power, and the rebuilding of the Temple, events which were commonly looked for in the time of Cyrus. In the present ago of the world the Jews certainly have nothing which can be ascribed to them as greater or more excellent than other nations. And that they have remained for so long a time dispersed over the globe, and without political power, is not to be wondered at, seeing that they so kept themselves apart from other nations as to have drawn down the hatred of all upon their heads, not only by their general rites and ceremonies, always opposed to those of other peoples, but by their special rite of circumcision which they most religiously observe. But that this dislike or hatred of other nations has proved a cause of the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people, is matter of experience; for when a king of Spain in former times obliged the Jews either to receive and profess the religion of the kingdom, or to go into exile, very many of them made profession of the Roman Catholic faith; and as all who did so were at once admitted to the privileges and immunities of Spaniards generally, and were held eligible to all the distinctions of the country, they almost immediately became so intermingled with the Spaniards that very shortly afterwards no trace and no memorial of their descent remained. A totally different effect was produced in Portugal, where the Jews, compelled to profess and professing the religion of the State, but declared incompetent in respect of all honours and dignities, have continued to live among themselves, apart from the rest of the community, and have consequently preserved all their national characteristics unimpaired.[4] The rite of circumcision, too, I am fain to persuade myself, is of such moment in this matter that it alone, methinks, were enough to preserve this people distinct for ever; indeed, unless the fundamentals of their religion bring upon them effeminacy of mind and character, I am inclined to believe that, with the opportunity afforded, since human affairs are notoriously changeable, they may again recover their empire, and God elect them to himself anew.[5] We have a remarkable example of the influence of a particular observance, in the Chinese, who most religiously preserve a lock of hair on the crown of their heads, whereby they are distinguished from all other people; and thus distinguished they have kept themselves apart for thousands of years, so that in point of antiquity they far surpass all other nations; nor have they always preserved the supreme authority to themselves, though they have still recovered it when it had been lost; and without doubt they will recover it again, when the minds and bodies of their Tartar conquerors have declined from their old vigour under the deteriorating influences of wealth and luxury and irresponsible dominion.[6] To conclude, were any one disposed to maintain that the Jews, for the cause assigned, or for any other cause whatsoever, had been especially chosen by God to all eternity, I should not gainsay him, provided he allowed that this choice was made in respect of nothing but empire and personal advantages (in which only can one nation be distinguished from another), for as regards understanding and true virtue, no nation is more remarkable than another, and so cannot on such grounds be looked on as elected by God.


Notes[edit]

  1. In the 15th chapter of Genesis God promised Abraham to be his defender, and to reward him amply; and Abraham replies that he can now look for nothing that should be precious in his eyes, as he is childless, and far advanced in years.
  2. "All that could have been promised the Jews was therefore security of life." On this point, viz. that to the attainment of eternal life it was not enough to have kept the precepts of the Old Testament, see Mark x. 19, 21.
  3. Like pipes, Eng. version. — Ed.
  4. Spinoza's explanation of the continued separate existence of the Jewish people is unquestionably the right one. With the more charitable and tolerant views of these later times the prejudice against the Jews is fast dying out. With no mark of civic distinction denied them, they will soon become absorbed into the larger Christian communities, surrounded by whom they now dwell in all the countries of Europe. — Ed.
  5. The preceding note and the Spanish absorption make against the probability of any restoration of a Jewish sovereignty. No longer persecuted by Pope and Kaiser, or Christian communities, the Jews will finally disappear, and leave only historical records of their existence. The immediate cause of the above curious persuasion in Spinoza's mind may have been this, that under a certain Sabbathai Zcwi, who appeared in Greece about the year ——, and pretended to be the Messiah, such a commotion took place among the Jews, as at one time made their regeneration and reconstitution into a sovereignty appear not impossible. B. Auerbach, Leben Spinoza's. — Ed.
  6. Spinoza must be ranked among the number of the prophets here. The above was published in 1670; in 1861 the Tai-Ping, or national Chinese party, called rebels of course by the Tartar or ruling sept, are making head against their conquerors and oppressors; and may possibly recover the sovereignty. Nations that keep possession of the land appear in these later days at all events very difficult of extirpation. In 1862 we have seen Italy all but restored to the Italians, in spite of centuries of suffering and foreign domination. We now also see the Poles insisting on their nationality, in spite of half a century of oppression, and Hungary resolutely asserting her status among the nations, against attempts, as wicked as they are foolish, to blot her out of the map of Europe. — Ed.