Why Spinoza chose the Hebrews: The exemplary function of prophecy in the Theological-Political Treatise

History of Political Thought 18 (2):207-241 (1997)

Authors
Michael A. Rosenthal
University of Washington
Abstract
In what follows, then, I will make four basic points. First, I will take what Spinoza says in the Ethics about an exemplar of human nature as a clear and basic indication of what the purpose of an exemplar is: to transform value from an individual and subjective utility to a universal and objective standard. Second, I will argue that the function of prophecy in the foundation of the state is essentially to fulfil the role of an exemplar, but on a political level; that is, to persuade the individual that his or her interest is only fulfilled through submission to the state's authority. Third, I will show how the history of the Hebrew state exemplifies the tension inherent in an exemplar between its particular imaginative origins and its universal pretensions. Fourth, I will claim that the narrative of the Hebrews' use and misuse of prophecy spoke directly to the Dutch of Spinoza's time and speaks indirectly to the political theorists of our own time
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