Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Atheist's Bible. the Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Atheist's Bible. the Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed

Article excerpt

The Atheist's Bible. The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed. By Georges Minois. Translated by Lys Ann Weiss. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2012. Pp. xii, 249. $30.00. ISBN 978-0-226-53029-1.)

In 1239 Pope Gregory IX accused Emperor Frederick II of blasphemy, specifically of authorship of De tribus impostoribus, a treatise denouncing Moses, Jesus, and Muhammed as imposters. Frederick had not written such a book-at that time there was no such book-and the present volume is a study of the influence of this accusation over the centuries until finally unknown authors filled the vacuum in the eighteenth century and produced two versions of it, in Latin and French (the subtitle is thus not strictly true, but embodies the sensationalism running through the book). There is a map of the distribution of this work in the eighteenth century, but not all the questions raised by it are addressed. For instance, why is the work not found in Spain at all? In its title and subtitle itself arguably the expression of a kind of puffery, this book in fact is a fascinating study of a chapter in medieval and early-modern atheism.

The "Preface to the English-Language Edition (2012)" expresses certain ideas, questionable in themselves, but revelatory of biases running through the book. Thus we are told that today the Treatise resonates more in the Anglo-phone world than on the European continent, and that this is because atheism is more freely debated in the former. Continental Europeans are more reticent about entering such arguments, the preface states, and practice a consensus, which affirms that all beliefs deserve respect, even when they defy the most basic level of rational thought:

You might say that Europe has forgotten the spirit of the Enlightenment.... This refusal to envision a rational critique of the three great monotheistic religions, or even to allow the debate, favors intellectual stagnation, (pp. ix-x)

Those who doubt the accuracy of such statements will find a good deal to quarrel with in this book. …

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