In Otfried Höffe (ed.), Spinoza: Theologisch-Politischer Traktat. De Gruyter. pp. 195-210 (2014)

Yitzhak Melamed
Johns Hopkins University
Chapters 17 and 18 of the TTP constitute a textual unit in which Spinoza submits the case of the ancient Hebrew state to close examination. This is not the work of a historian, at least not in any sense that we, twenty-first century readers, would recognize as such. Many of Spinoza’s claims in these chapters are highly speculative, and seem to be poorly backed by historical evidence (Cf. Verbeek (2003), 126). Other claims are broad-brush, ahistorical generalizations: for example, in a marginal note (to be discussed shortly), Spinoza refers to his Jewish contemporaries as if they were identical with the ancient Hebrews. Projections from Spinoza’s own experience of his Jewish and Dutch contemporaries are quite common, and the Erastian lesson that Spinoza attempts to draw from his “history” of the ancient Hebrew state is all too conspicuous. Even Spinoza’s philosophical arguments in these two chapters are not uniformly convincing, as I will attempt to show. Yet in spite of all these faults, the two chapters are a masterpiece of their own kind: a case study of the psychological foundations of politics and religion. The work that comes closest in my mind is Freud’s 1939 Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion. The two works are similar not only in terms of their chronological subject matter – the Hebrews of Moses’s time – but also in their attempt to reconstruct the communal psyche of the Hebrews in order to demonstrate their respective social theories about the foundation of civilization. Needless to say, there are numerous differences between the two works, not the least of which are their distinct aims and the very different political contexts in which they were produced.
Keywords Spinoza  Politics  Hebrew Republic  Bible  Theological Political Treatise  Freud  Political Theology
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DOI 10.1524/9783050064574.195
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