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A Book Forged in Hell

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

Steven Nadler
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 304
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    A Book Forged in Hell
    Book Description:

    When it appeared in 1670, Baruch Spinoza'sTheological-Political Treatisewas 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'sCommon Senseto modern liberal, secular, and democratic thinking. InA 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'sTreatisewas 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 Hellwill interest anyone who is curious about the origin of some of our most cherished modern beliefs.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3951-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Chapter 1 Prologue
    (pp. 1-16)

    On the morning of July 28, 1670, Philips Huijbertsz¹ said goodbye to his wife, Eva Geldorpis, and left his home on the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam. On this summer day, however, the fifty-six-year-old silk merchant was not on his way to the shop he had inherited from his father. It was Sunday, and he had more spiritual matters to attend to—matters of grave concern to the religious and moral well-being of his community.

    Just four days earlier the consistory, or church council, of Amsterdam’s Reformed Church had commissioned Brother Huijbertsz and his colleague, Brother Lucas van der Heiden, also in...

  6. Chapter 2 The Theological-Political Problem
    (pp. 17-35)

    In the early spring of 1661, Henry Oldenburg, the corresponding secretary for the Royal Society in England, was on one of his periodic trips to the continent. He passed through Amsterdam and Leiden, visiting with old friends and making new contacts to broaden his already considerable circle of acquaintances and scientific collaborators. While in the Dutch Republic, he heard of a gifted young philosopher and lens grinder—and ostracized Jew—who used to live in Amsterdam but now resided in a small village just outside Leiden. His interest no doubt piqued, in part by what he must have heard about...

  7. Chapter 3 Rasphuis
    (pp. 36-51)

    In the Middle Ages, much of the outermost wall of Amsterdam was surrounded by a canal. The Singel (girdle), as it was called, was a moat that protected the city from the west, south, and east. By the middle of the seventeenth century, when the municipality had expanded by reclaiming more land from the surrounding marshes in order to house its growing population, the Singel had become but the first of several concentric canals, orgrachten, forming a broad series of belts around upscale neighborhoods.

    The Singel begins at the bay from the Ij River and today follows a half-ring...

  8. Chapter 4 Gods and Prophets
    (pp. 52-75)

    The Wars of Religion that ravaged Europe in the aftermath of the Reformation may have been over by the middle of the seventeenth century, at least according to signed treaties and various social-political accommodations, but their repercussions extended for many more decades. Political rivalries among the superpowers of the period—especially France, England, Spain, and the Netherlands—were stoked by religious differences, and vice versa. It seems that the only thing Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists agreed on was that the real threat to society and the souls of its members lay in “godless” works such as Spinoza’sTheological-Political Treatise...

  9. Chapter 5 Miracles
    (pp. 76-103)

    In 1714, on the occasion of his inauguration as professor of natural and mathematical philosophy at the University of Altdorf, Johann Heinrich Müller gave a lecture with the title “On Miracles.” Müller defined a miracle as “a certain unusual operation . . . producing such an effect, whose cause (ratio) cannot in any way be explained through the ordinary laws of nature, but rather is wholly contrary to them, and therefore requires that these necessarily be suspended for a time and that others be substituted in their place.”¹ He then goes on to investigate whether miracles, so defined, are possible,...

  10. Chapter 6 Scripture
    (pp. 104-142)

    When Spinoza died, in February 1677, he had been living on the Paviljoensgracht in The Hague. The house was owned by Hendrik van der Spyck, a master painter, and the philosopher occupied a single room on the first floor. To pay off some of Spinoza’s creditors, as well as to recoup his own expenses, Van der Spyck planned to auction off Spinoza’s clothes, furniture, and other belongings. In preparation for the sale, an inventory was taken in March by the notary Willem van den Hove. Among Spinoza’s possessions was a relatively large library containing works of philosophy, science, mathematics, religion,...

  11. Chapter 7 Judaism, Christianity, and True Religion
    (pp. 143-175)

    Sometime in early 1671, Spinoza received a letter from Jacob Ostens. An acquaintance of Spinoza’s probably from the late 1650s, Ostens was a surgeon and Mennonite pastor in Rotterdam. He was also a friend of Lambert van Velthuysen, a physician in Utrecht, sometime intellectual and relatively liberal thinker. In his writings, Van Velthuysen promoted both Cartesian philosophy and Copernicanism, bringing him into trouble with religious authorities. Van Velthuysen was not so progressive, however, that he was able to read Spinoza’sTreatisewith equanimity. In January 1671, in response to Ostens’s query as to what he thought of the recently published...

  12. Chapter 8 Faith, Reason, and the State
    (pp. 176-199)

    In popular accounts of the history of European philosophy, the seventeenth century is often referred to as the Age of Reason, presumably to distinguish it from the so-called Age of Faith, that is, the medieval period. But even a casual observer of the way in which ecclesiastic authority—both Catholic and Reformed—continued to police intellectual (and not just doctrinal) matters throughout the continent would be justified in having doubts about the appropriateness of the label.

    Things did not start out auspiciously. In 1600, in Italy, Giordano Bruno was condemned by the Catholic Church for heresy and burned at the...

  13. Chapter 9 Libertas philosophandi
    (pp. 200-214)

    The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This complex (and oft debated) proposition, comprised of both an “establishment” clause and a “free exercise” clause, is usually taken to be a clear and paradigmatic statement of the doctrine of separation of church and state. As Thomas Jefferson puts it, the First Amendment should be seen as “building a wall of separation between church and state.”¹ The government may neither contribute to the promotion of any religious worship, but neither may it prevent people...

  14. Chapter 10 The Onslaught
    (pp. 215-240)

    When Spinoza’s first publication, his exposition of Descartes’s philosophy, appeared in 1663, the title-page indicated that the book was published in Amsterdam, “in the quarter commonly called the Dirk van Assensteeg.” Later called the Dirk van Hasseltsteeg, the “quarter” is in fact a short and narrow, winding street in the center of the city that runs off the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and beside a cul-de-sac once known for its pastry shops (appropriately named the Suiker Bakkerssteeg, or Sugar Bakers’ Street).

    It was out of his home on this street that Jan Rieuwertsz¹ ran a well-known bookstore and publishing business. Born in...

  15. A Note on Texts and Translations
    (pp. 241-242)
  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 243-244)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 245-266)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-276)
  19. Index
    (pp. 277-279)