A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age

A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age

A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age

A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age

Synopsis

When it appeared in 1670, Baruch Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise was denounced as the most dangerous book ever published--"godless," "full of abominations," "a book forged in hell... by the devil himself." Religious and secular authorities saw it as a threat to faith, social and political harmony, and everyday morality, and its author was almost universally regarded as a religious subversive and political radical who sought to spread atheism throughout Europe. Yet Spinoza's book has contributed as much as the Declaration of Independence or Thomas Paine's Common Sense to modern liberal, secular, and democratic thinking. In A Book Forged in Hell, Steven Nadler tells the fascinating story of this extraordinary book: its radical claims and their background in the philosophical, religious, and political tensions of the Dutch Golden Age, as well as the vitriolic reaction these ideas inspired.


It is not hard to see why Spinoza's Treatise was so important or so controversial, or why the uproar it caused is one of the most significant events in European intellectual history. In the book, Spinoza became the first to argue that the Bible is not literally the word of God but rather a work of human literature; that true religion has nothing to do with theology, liturgical ceremonies, or sectarian dogma; and that religious authorities should have no role in governing a modern state. He also denied the reality of miracles and divine providence, reinterpreted the nature of prophecy, and made an eloquent plea for toleration and democracy.


A vivid story of incendiary ideas and vicious backlash, A Book Forged in Hell will interest anyone who is curious about the origin of some of our most cherished modern beliefs.

Excerpt

Writing in May 1670, the German theologian Jacob Thomasius fulminated against a recent, anonymously published book. It was, he claimed, “a godless document” that should be immediately banned in all countries. His Dutch colleague, Regnier Mansveld, a professor at the University of Utrecht, insisted that the new publication was harmful to all religions and “ought to be buried forever in an eternal oblivion.” Willem van Blijenburgh, a philosophically inclined Dutch merchant, wrote that “this atheistic book is full of abominations…which every reasonable person should find abhorrent.” One disturbed critic went so far as to call it “a book forged in hell,” written by the devil himself.

The object of all this attention was a work titled Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Theological-Political Treatise) and its author, an excommunicated Jew from Amsterdam: Baruch de Spinoza. The Treatise was regarded by Spinoza’s contemporaries as the most dangerous book ever published. In their eyes, it threatened to undermine religious faith, social and political harmony, and even everyday morality. They believed that the author—and his identity was not a secret for very long—was a religious subversive and political radical who sought to spread atheism and libertinism throughout Christendom. The uproar over the Treatise is, without question, one of the most significant events in European intellectual history, occurring as it did at the dawn of the Enlightenment. While the book laid the groundwork for subsequent liberal, secular, and democratic thinking, the debate over it also exposed deep tensions in a world that had seemingly recovered from over a century of brutal religious warfare.

The Treatise is also one of the most important books of Western thought ever written. Spinoza was the first to argue that the . . .

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