Spinoza's Bible

Philosophy and Theology 13 (1):93-142 (2001)
Abstract
My essay explores the connections between Spinoza’s theory of biblical interpretation and his conception of prophecy, linking the two through what he calls “moral certainty.” The question of what prophecy conveys is connected to the question of how to read Scripture because readers are in a similar position to both the prophets, who attain sure knowledge of some matter revealed by God, and the audience of prophecy, who have access to this knowledge only through faith. Like prophets, readers are interpreters of something that can not be known by way of reason alone; hence the effort to secure certainty involves factors other than purely rational ones (the history of the text, for readers; a vivid imagination, signs, and virtue for the prophet). But like the prophet’s audience, the knowledge of texts that we can attain is not always “sure,” since texts “transcend” us in a certain sense. That is, they introduce novelties---laws, customs, histories---that we wouldn’t know without reading them, and we therefore have to take their authors, prophets in this case, at their word-as it were, on faith. While most of the focus on Spinoza’s concept of biblical interpretation has centered on his maxim that “the method of interpreting Scripture is no different from the method of interpreting Nature,” I hold that it is just as crucial to investigate his claims concerning the nature of prophecy, and in particular to allow prophetic knowledge to shed light on Spinoza’s concepts of words, history, and the corruption and incorruptibility of texts
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