A Theologico-Political Treatise [Part 2] by Benedict de Spinoza

This Etext was created by Joseph B. Yesselman jyselman@erols.com Please send corrections to him and also to hart@pobox.com Part 1 – Chapters I to V – 1spnt10.txt Part 2 – Chapters VI to X – 2spnt10.txt Part 3 – Chapters XI to XV – 3spnt10.txt Part 4 – Chapters XVI to XX – 4spnt10.txt Sentence
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This Etext was created by Joseph B. Yesselman jyselman@erols.com Please send corrections to him and also to hart@pobox.com

Part 1 – Chapters I to V – 1spnt10.txt Part 2 – Chapters VI to X – 2spnt10.txt Part 3 – Chapters XI to XV – 3spnt10.txt Part 4 – Chapters XVI to XX – 4spnt10.txt

Sentence Numbers, shown thus (1), have been added by volunteer.

A Theologico-Political Treatise
Part 2 – Chapters VI to X
by Baruch Spinoza

A Theologico-Political Treatise
Part 2 – Chapters VI to X
by Baruch Spinoza


CHAPTER VI – Of Miracles.

Confused ideas of the vulgar on the subject.

A miracle in the sense of a contravention of natural laws an absurdity.

In the sense of an event, whose cause is unknown, less edifying than an event better understood.

God’s providence identical with the course of nature. How Scripture miracles may be interpreted.

CHAPTER VII – Of the Interpretation of Scripture.

Current systems of interpretation erroneous.

Only true system to interpret it by itself.

Reasons why this system cannot now be carried out in its entirety.

Yet these difficulties do not interfere with our understanding the plainest and most important passages.

Rival systems examined – that of a supernatural faculty being necessary – refuted.

That of Maimonides.


Traditions of the Pharisees and the Papists rejected.

CHAPTER VIII. – Of the authorship of the Pentateuch, and the other historical books of the Old Testament.

The Pentateuch not written by Moses.

His actual writings distinct.

Traces of late authorship in the other historical books.

All the historical books the work of one man.

Probably Ezra.

Who compiled first the book of Deuteronomy.

And then a history, distinguishing the books by the names of their subjects.

CHAPTER IX. – Other questions about these books.

That these books have not been thoroughly revised and made to agree.

That there are many doubtful readings.

That the existing marginal notes are often such.

The other explanations of these notes refuted.

The hiatus.

CHAPTER X.- An Examination of the remaining books of the Old Testament according to the preceding method.

Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs.

Isaiah, Jeremiah.

Ezekiel, Hosea.

Other prophets, Jonah, Job.

Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.

The author declines to undertake a similar detailed examination of the New Testament.

Author’s Endnotes to the Treatise


(1) As men are accustomed to call Divine the knowledge which transcends human understanding, so also do they style Divine, or the work of God, anything of which the cause is not generally known: for the masses think that the power and providence of God are most clearly displayed by events that are extraordinary and contrary to the conception they have formed of nature, especially if such events bring them any profit or convenience: they think that the clearest possible proof of God’s existence is afforded when nature, as they suppose, breaks her accustomed order, and consequently they believe that those who explain or endeavour to understand phenomena or miracles through their natural causes are doing away with God and His providence. (2) They suppose, forsooth, that God is inactive so long as nature works in her accustomed order, and vice versa, that the power of nature and natural causes are idle so long as God is acting: thus they imagine two powers distinct one from the other, the power of God and the power of nature, though the latter is in a sense determined by God, or (as most people believe now) created by Him. (3) What they mean by either, and what they understand by God and nature they do not know, except that they imagine the power of God to be like that of some royal potentate, and nature’s power to consist in force and energy.

(4) The masses then style unusual phenomena, “miracles,” and partly from piety, partly for the sake of opposing the students of science, prefer to remain in ignorance of natural causes, and only to hear of those things which they know least, and consequently admire most. (5) In fact, the common people can only adore God, and refer all things to His power by removing natural causes, and conceiving things happening out of their due course, and only admires the power of God when the power of nature is conceived of as in subjection to it.

(6) This idea seems to have taken its rise among the early Jews who saw the Gentiles round them worshipping visible gods such as the sun, the moon, the earth, water, air, &c., and in order to inspire the conviction that such divinities were weak and inconstant, or changeable, told how they themselves were under the sway of an invisible God, and narrated their miracles, trying further to show that the God whom they worshipped arranged the whole of nature for their sole benefit: this idea was so pleasing to humanity that men go on to this day imagining miracles, so that they may believe themselves God’s favourites, and the final cause for which God created and directs all things.

(7) What pretension will not people in their folly advance! (8) They have no single sound idea concerning either God or nature, they confound God’s decrees with human decrees, they conceive nature as so limited that they believe man to be its chief part! (9) I have spent enough space in setting forth these common ideas and prejudices concerning nature and miracles, but in order to afford a regular demonstration I will show –

(10) I. That nature cannot be contravened, but that she preserves a fixed and immutable order, and at the same time I will explain what is meant by a miracle.

(11) II. That God’s nature and existence, and consequently His providence cannot be known from miracles, but that they can all be much better perceived from the fixed and immutable order of nature.

(12) III. That by the decrees and volitions, and consequently the providence of God, Scripture (as I will prove by Scriptural examples) means nothing but nature’s order following necessarily from her eternal laws.

(13) IV. Lastly, I will treat of the method of interpreting Scriptural miracles, and the chief points to be noted concerning the narratives of them.

(14) Such are the principal subjects which will be discussed in this chapter, and which will serve, I think, not a little to further the object of this treatise.

(15) Our first point is easily proved from what we showed in Chap. IV. about Divine law – namely, that all that God wishes or determines involves eternal necessity, and truth, for we demonstrated that God’s understanding is identical with His will, and that it is the same thing to say that God wills a thing, as to say, that He understands it; hence, as it follows necessarily, from the Divine nature and perfection that God understands a thing as it is, it follows no less necessarily that He wills it as it is. (16) Now, as nothing is necessarily true save only by, Divine decree, it is plain that the universal laws of nature are decrees of God following from the necessity and perfection of the Divine nature. (17) Hence, any event happening in nature which contravened nature’s universal laws, would necessarily also contravene the Divine decree, nature, and understanding; or if anyone asserted that God acts in contravention to the laws of nature, he, ipso facto, would be compelled to assert that God acted against His own nature – an evident absurdity. (18) One might easily show from the same premises that the power and efficiency, of nature are in themselves the Divine power and efficiency, and that the Divine power is the very essence of God, but this I gladly pass over for the present.

(19) Nothing, then, comes to pass in nature (N.B. I do not mean here by “nature,” merely matter and its modifications, but infinite other things besides matter.) in contravention to her universal laws, nay, everything agrees with them and follows from them, for whatsoever comes to pass, comes to pass by the will and eternal decree of God; that is, as we have just pointed out, whatever comes to pass, comes to pass according to laws and rules which involve eternal necessity and truth; nature, therefore, always observes laws and rules which involve eternal necessity, and truth, although they may not all be known to us, and therefore she keeps a fixed and mutable order. (20) Nor is there any sound reason for limiting the power and efficacy of nature, and asserting that her laws are fit for certain purposes, but not for all; for as the efficacy, and power of nature, are the very, efficacy and power of God, and as the laws and rules of nature are the decrees of God, it is in every way to be believed that the power of nature is infinite, and that her laws are broad enough to embrace everything conceived by, the Divine intellect; the only alternative is to assert that God has created nature so weak, and has ordained for her laws so barren, that He is repeatedly compelled to come afresh to her aid if He wishes that she should be preserved, and that things should happen as He desires: a conclusion, in My opinion, very far removed from reason. (21) Further, as nothing happens in nature which does not follow from her laws, and as her laws embrace everything conceived by the Divine intellect, and lastly, as nature preserves a fixed and immutable order; it most clearly follows that miracles are only intelligible as in relation to human opinions, and merely mean events of which the natural cause cannot be explained by a reference to any ordinary occurrence, either by us, or at any rate, by the writer and narrator of the miracle.

(22) We may, in fact, say that a miracle is an event of which the causes annot be explained by the natural reason through a reference to ascertained workings of nature; but since miracles were wrought according to the understanding of the masses, who are wholly ignorant of the workings of nature, it is certain that the ancients took for a miracle whatever they could not explain by the method adopted by the unlearned in such cases, namely, an appeal to the memory, a recalling of something similar, which is ordinarily regarded without wonder; for most people think they sufficiently understand a thing when they have ceased to wonder at it. (23) The ancients, then, and indeed most men up to the present day, had no other criterion for a miracle; hence we cannot doubt that many things are narrated in Scripture as miracles of which the causes could easily be explained by reference to ascertained workings of nature. (24) We have hinted as much in Chap. II., in speaking of the sun standing still in the time of Joshua, and to say on the subject when we come to treat of the interpretation of miracles later on in this chapter.

(25) It is now time to pass on to the second point, and show that we cannot gain an understanding of God’s essence, existence, or providence by means of miracles, but that these truths are much better perceived through the fixed and immutable order of nature. (26) I thus proceed with the demonstration. (27) As God’s existence is not self-evident (6) it must necessarily be inferred from ideas so firmly and incontrovertibly true, that no power can be postulated or conceived sufficient to impugn them. (28) They ought certainly so to appear to us when we infer from them God’s existence, if we wish to place our conclusion beyond the reach of doubt; for if we could conceive that such ideas could be impugned by any power whatsoever, we should doubt of their truth, we should doubt of our conclusion, namely, of God’s existence, and should never be able to be certain of anything. (29) Further, we know that nothing either agrees with or is contrary to nature, unless it agrees with or is contrary to these primary ideas; wherefore if we would conceive that anything could be done in nature by any power whatsoever which would be contrary to the laws of nature, it would also be contrary to our primary ideas, and we should have either to reject it as absurd, or else to cast doubt (as just shown) on our primary ideas, and consequently on the existence of God, and on everything howsoever perceived. (30) Therefore miracles, in the sense of events contrary to the laws of nature, so far from demonstrating to us the existence of God, would, on the contrary, lead us to doubt it, where, otherwise, we might have been absolutely certain of it, as knowing that nature follows a fixed and immutable order.

(31) Let us take miracle as meaning that which cannot be explained through natural causes. (32) This may be interpreted in two senses: either as that which has natural causes, but cannot be examined by the human intellect; or as that which has no cause save God and God’s will. (33) But as all things which come to pass through natural causes, come to pass also solely through the will and power of God, it comes to this, that a miracle, whether it has natural causes or not, is a result which cannot be explained by its cause, that is a phenomenon which surpasses human understanding; but from such a phenomenon, and certainly from a result surpassing our understanding, we can gain no knowledge. (34) For whatsoever we understand clearly and distinctly should be plain to us either in itself or by means of something else clearly and distinctly understood; wherefore from a miracle or a phenomenon which we cannot understand, we can gain no knowledge of God’s essence, or existence, or indeed anything about God or nature; whereas when we know that all things are ordained and ratified by God, that the operations of nature follow from the essence of God, and that the laws of nature are eternal decrees and volitions of God, we must perforce conclude that our knowledge of God, and of God’s will increases in proportion to our knowledge and clear understanding of nature, as we see how she depends on her primal cause, and how she works according to eternal law. (35) Wherefore so far as our understanding goes, those phenomena which we clearly and distinctly understand have much better right to be called works of God, and to be referred to the will of God than those about which we are entirely ignorant, although they appeal powerfully to the imagination, and compel men’s admiration.

(36) It is only phenomena that we clearly and distinctly understand, which heighten our knowledge of God, and most clearly indicate His will and decrees. (37) Plainly, they are but triflers who, when they cannot explain a thing, run back to the will of God; this is, truly, a ridiculous way of expressing ignorance. (38) Again, even supposing that some conclusion could be drawn from miracles, we could not possibly infer from them the existence of God: for a miracle being an event under limitations is the expression of a fixed and limited power; therefore we could not possibly infer from an effect of this kind the existence of a cause whose power is infinite, but at the utmost only of a cause whose power is greater than that of the said effect. (39) I say at the utmost, for a phenomenon may be the result of many concurrent causes, and its power may be less than the power of the sum of such causes, but far greater than that of any one of them taken individually. (40) On the other hand, the laws of nature, as we have shown, extend over infinity, and are conceived by us as, after a fashion, eternal, and nature works in accordance with them in a fixed and immutable order; therefore, such laws indicate to us in a certain degree the infinity, the eternity, and the immutability of God.

(40) We may conclude, then, that we cannot gain knowledge of the existence and providence of God by means of miracles, but that we can far better infer them from the fixed and immutable order of nature. (41) By miracle, I here mean an event which surpasses, or is thought to surpass, human comprehension: for in so far as it is supposed to destroy or interrupt the order of nature or her laws, it not only can give us no knowledge of God, but, contrariwise, takes away that which we naturally have, and makes us doubt of God and everything else.

(42) Neither do I recognize any difference between an event against the laws of nature and an event beyond the laws of nature (that is, according to some, an event which does not contravene nature, though she is inadequate to produce or effect it) – for a miracle is wrought in, and not beyond nature, though it may be said in itself to be above nature, and, therefore, must necessarily interrupt the order of nature, which otherwise we conceive of as fixed and unchangeable, according to God’s decrees. (43) If, therefore, anything should come to pass in nature which does not follow from her laws, it would also be in contravention to the order which God has established in nature for ever through universal natural laws: it would, therefore, be in contravention to God’s nature and laws, and, consequently, belief in it would throw doubt upon everything, and lead to Atheism.

(44) I think I have now sufficiently established my second point, so that we can again conclude that a miracle, whether in contravention to, or beyond, nature, is a mere absurdity; and, therefore, that what is meant in Scripture by a miracle can only be a work of nature, which surpasses, or is believed to surpass, human comprehension. (45) Before passing on to my third point, I will adduce Scriptural authority for my assertion that God cannot be known from miracles. (46) Scripture nowhere states the doctrine openly, but it can readily be inferred from several passages. (47) Firstly, that in which Moses commands (Deut. xiii.) that a false prophet should be put to death, even though he work miracles: “If there arise a prophet among you, and giveth thee a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder come to pass, saying, Let us go after other gods . . . thou shalt not hearken unto the voice of that prophet; for the Lord your God proveth you, and that prophet shall be put to death.” (48) From this it clearly follows that miracles could be wrought even by false prophets; and that, unless men are honestly endowed with the true knowledge and love of God, they may be as easily led by miracles to follow false gods as to follow the true God; for these words are added: “For the Lord your God tempts you, that He may know whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your mind.”

(49) Further, the Israelites, from all their miracles, were unable to form a sound conception of God, as their experience testified: for when they had persuaded themselves that Moses had departed from among them, they petitioned Aaron to give them visible gods; and the idea of God they had formed as the result of all their miracles was – a calf!

(50) Asaph, though he had heard of so many miracles, yet doubted of the providence of God, and would have turned himself from the true way, if he had not at last come to understand true blessedness. (See Ps. lxxxiii.) (51) Solomon, too, at a time when the Jewish nation was at the height of its prosperity, suspects that all things happen by chance. (See Eccles. iii:19, 20, 21; and chap. ix:2, 3, &c.)

(52) Lastly, nearly all the prophets found it very hard to reconcile the order of nature and human affairs with the conception they had formed of God’s providence, whereas philosophers who endeavour to understand things by clear conceptions of them, rather than by miracles, have always found the task extremely easy – at least, such of them as place true happiness solely in virtue and peace of mind, and who aim at obeying nature, rather than being obeyed by her. (53) Such persons rest assured that God directs nature according to the requirements of universal laws, not according to the requirements of the particular laws of human nature, and trial, therefore, God’s scheme comprehends, not only the human race, but the whole of nature.

(54) It is plain, then, from Scripture itself, that miracles can give no knowledge of God, nor clearly teach us the providence of God. (55) As to the frequent statements in Scripture, that God wrought miracles to make Himself plain to man – as in Exodus x:2, where He deceived the Egyptians, and gave signs of Himself, that the Israelites might know that He was God,- it does not, therefore, follow that miracles really taught this truth, but only that the Jews held opinions which laid them easily open to conviction by miracles. (56) We have shown in Chap. II. that the reasons assigned by the prophets, or those which are formed from revelation, are not assigned in accordance with ideas universal and common to all, but in accordance with the accepted doctrines, however absurd, and with the opinions of those to whom the revelation was given, or those whom the Holy Spirit wished to convince.

(57) This we have illustrated by many Scriptural instances, and can further cite Paul, who to the Greeks was a Greek, and to the Jews a Jew. (58) But although these miracles could convince the Egyptians and Jews from their standpoint, they could not give a true idea and knowledge of God, but only cause them to admit that there was a Deity more powerful than anything known to them, and that this Deity took special care of the Jews, who had just then an unexpectedly happy issue of all their affairs. (59) They could not teach them that God cares equally for all, for this can be taught only by philosophy: the Jews, and all who took their knowledge of God’s providence from the dissimilarity of human conditions of life and the inequalities of fortune, persuaded themselves that God loved the Jews above all men, though they did not surpass their fellows in true human perfection.

(60) I now go on to my third point, and show from Scripture that the decrees and mandates of God, and consequently His providence, are merely the order of nature – that is, when Scripture describes an event as accomplished by God or God’s will, we must understand merely that it was in accordance with the law and order of nature, not, as most people believe, that nature had for a season ceased to act, or that her order was temporarily interrupted. (61) But Scripture does not directly teach matters unconnected with its doctrine, wherefore it has no care to explain things by their natural causes, nor to expound matters merely speculative. (62) Wherefore our conclusion must be gathered by inference from those Scriptural narratives which happen to be written more at length and circumstantially than usual. (63) Of these I will cite a few.

(64) In the first book of Samuel, ix:15, 16, it is related that God revealed to Samuel that He would send Saul to him, yet God did not send Saul to Samuel as people are wont to send one man to another. (65) His “sending” was merely the ordinary course of nature. (66) Saul was looking for the asses he had lost, and was meditating a return home without them, when, at the suggestion of his servant, he went to the prophet Samuel, to learn from him where he might find them. (67) From no part of the narrative does it appear that Saul had any command from God to visit Samuel beyond this natural motive.

(68) In Psalm cv. 24 it is said that God changed the hearts of the Egyptians, so that they hated the Israelites. (69) This was evidently a natural change, as appears from Exodus, chap.i., where we find no slight reason for the Egyptians reducing the Israelites to slavery.

(70) In Genesis ix:13, God tells Noah that He will set His bow in the cloud; this action of God’s is but another way of expressing the refraction and reflection which the rays of the sun are subjected to in drops of water.

(71) In Psalm cxlvii:18, the natural action and warmth of the wind, by which hoar frost and snow are melted, are styled the word of the Lord, and in verse 15 wind and cold are called the commandment and word of God.

(72) In Psalm civ:4, wind and fire are called the angels and ministers of God, and various other passages of the same sort are found in Scripture, clearly showing that the decree, commandment, fiat, and word of God are merely expressions for the action and order of nature.

(73) Thus it is plain that all the events narrated in Scripture came to pass naturally, and are referred directly to God because Scripture, as we have shown, does not aim at explaining things by their natural causes, but only at narrating what appeals to the popular imagination, and doing so in the manner best calculated to excite wonder, and consequently to impress the minds of the masses with devotion. (74) If, therefore, events are found in the Bible which we cannot refer to their causes, nay, which seem entirely to contradict the order of nature, we must not come to a stand, but assuredly believe that whatever did really happen happened naturally. (75) This view is confirmed by the fact that in the case of every miracle there were many attendant circumstances, though these were not always related, especially where the narrative was of a poetic character.

(76) The circumstances of the miracles clearly show, I maintain, that natural causes were needed. (77) For instance, in order to infect the Egyptians with blains, it was necessary that Moses should scatter ashes in the air (Exod. ix: 10); the locusts also came upon the land of Egypt by a command of God in accordance with nature, namely, by an east wind blowing for a whole day and night; and they departed by a very strong west wind (Exod. x:14, 19). (78) By a similar Divine mandate the sea opened a way for the Jews (Exo. xiv:21), namely, by an east wind which blew very strongly all night.

(79) So, too, when Elisha would revive the boy who was believed to be dead, he was obliged to bend over him several times until the flesh of the child waxed warm, and at last he opened his eyes (2 Kings iv:34, 35).

(80) Again, in John’s Gospel (chap. ix.) certain acts are mentioned as performed by Christ preparatory to healing the blind man, and there are numerous other instances showing that something further than the absolute fiat of God is required for working a miracle.

(81) Wherefore we may believe that, although the circumstances attending miracles are not related always or in full detail, yet a miracle was never performed without them.

(82) This is confirmed by Exodus xiv:27, where it is simply stated that “Moses stretched forth his hand, and the waters of the sea returned to their strength in the morning,” no mention being made of a wind; but in the song of Moses (Exod. xv:10) we read, ,Thou didst blow with Thy wind (i.e. with a very strong wind), and the sea covered them.” (83) Thus the attendant circumstance is omitted in the history, and the miracle is thereby enhanced.

(84) But perhaps someone will insist that we find many things in Scripture which seem in nowise explicable by natural causes, as for instance, that the sins of men and their prayers can be the cause of rain and of the earth’s fertility, or that faith can heal the blind, and so on. (85) But I think I have already made sufficient answer: I have shown that Scripture does not explain things by their secondary causes, but only narrates them in the order and the style which has most power to move men, and especially uneducated men, to devotion; and therefore it speaks inaccurately of God and of events, seeing that its object is not to convince the reason, but to attract and lay hold of the imagination. (86) If the Bible were to describe the destruction of an empire in the style of political historians, the masses would remain unstirred, whereas the contrary is the case when it adopts the method of poetic description, and refers all things immediately to God. (87) When, therefore, the Bible says that the earth is barren because of men’s sins, or that the blind were healed by faith, we ought to take no more notice than when it says that God is angry at men’s sins, that He is sad, that He repents of the good He has promised and done; or that on seeing a sign he remembers something He had promised, and other similar expressions, which are either thrown out poetically or related according to the opinion and prejudices of the writer.

(88) We may, then, be absolutely certain that every event which is truly described in Scripture necessarily happened, like everything else, according to natural laws; and if anything is there set down which can be proved in set terms to contravene the order of nature, or not to be deducible therefrom, we must believe it to have been foisted into the sacred writings by irreligious hands; for whatsoever is contrary to nature is also contrary to reason, and whatsoever is contrary to reason is absurd, and, ipso facto, to be rejected.

(89) There remain some points concerning the interpretation of miracles to be noted, or rather to be recapitulated, for most of them have been already stated. (90) These I proceed to discuss in the fourth division of my subject, and I am led to do so lest anyone should, by wrongly interpreting a miracle, rashly suspect that he has found something in Scripture contrary to human reason.

(91) It is very rare for men to relate an event simply as it happened, without adding any element of their own judgment. (92) When they see or hear anything new, they are, unless strictly on their guard, so occupied with their own preconceived opinions that they perceive something quite different from the plain facts seen or heard, especially if such facts surpass the comprehension of the beholder or hearer, and, most of all, if he is interested in their happening in a given way.

(93) Thus men relate in chronicles and histories their own opinions rather than actual events, so that one and the same event is so differently related by two men of different opinions, that it seems like two separate occurrences; and, further, it is very easy from historical chronicles to gather the personal opinions of the historian.

(94) I could cite many instances in proof of this from the writings both of natural philosophers and historians, but I will content myself with one only from Scripture, and leave the reader to judge of the rest.

(95) In the time of Joshua the Hebrews held the ordinary opinion that the sun moves with a daily motion, and that the earth remains at rest; to this preconceived opinion they adapted the miracle which occurred during their battle with the five kings. (96) They did not simply relate that that day was longer than usual, but asserted that the sun and moon stood still, or ceased from their motion – a statement which would be of great service to them at that time in convincing and proving by experience to the Gentiles, who worshipped the sun, that the sun was under the control of another deity who could compel it to change its daily course. (97) Thus, partly through religious motives, partly through preconceived opinions, they conceived of and related the occurrence as something quite different from what really happened.

(98) Thus in order to interpret the Scriptural miracles and understand from the narration of them how they really happened, it is necessary to know the opinions of those who first related them, and have recorded them for us in writing, and to distinguish such opinions from the actual impression made upon their senses, otherwise we shall confound opinions and judgments with the actual miracle as it really occurred: nay, further, we shall confound actual events with symbolical and imaginary ones. (99) For many things are narrated in Scripture as real, and were believed to be real, which were in fact only symbolical and imaginary. (100) As, for instance, that God came down from heaven (Exod. xix:28, Deut. v:28), and that Mount Sinai smoked because God descended upon it surrounded with fire; or, again that Elijah ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire, with horses of fire; all these things were assuredly merely symbols adapted to the opinions of those who have handed them down to us as they were represented to them, namely, as real. (101) All who have any education know that God has no right hand nor left; that He is not moved nor at rest, nor in a particular place, but that He is absolutely infinite and contains in Himself all perfections.

(102) These things, I repeat, are known to whoever judges of things by the perception of pure reason, and not according as his imagination is affected by his outward senses. (103) Following the example of the masses who imagine a bodily Deity, holding a royal court with a throne on the convexity of heaven, above the stars, which are believed to be not very, far off from the earth.

(104) To these and similar opinions very many narrations in Scripture are adapted, and should not, therefore, be mistaken by philosophers for realities.

(105) Lastly, in order to understand, in the case of miracles, what actually took place, we ought to be familiar with Jewish phrases and metaphors; anyone who did not make sufficient allowance for these, would be continually seeing miracles in Scripture where nothing of the kind is intended by the writer; he would thus miss the knowledge not only of what actually happened, but also of the mind of the writers of the sacred text. (106) For instance, Zechariah speaking of some future war says (chap. xiv;7): “It shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but at even time it shall be light.” In these words he seems to predict a great miracle, yet he only means that the battle will be doubtful the whole day, that the issue will be known only to God, but that in the evening they will gain the victory: the prophets frequently used to predict victories and defeats of the nations in similar phrases. (107) Thus Isaiah, describing the destruction of Babylon, says (chap. xiii.): “The stars of heaven, and the constellations thereof, shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” (108) Now I suppose no one imagines that at the destruction of Babylon these phenomena actually occurred any more than that which the prophet adds, “For I will make the heavens to tremble, and remove the earth out of her place.”

(109) So, too, Isaiah in foretelling to the Jews that they would return from Babylon to Jerusalem in safety, and would not suffer from thirst on their journey, says: “And they thirsted not when He led them through the deserts; He caused the waters to flow out of the rocks for them; He clave the rocks, and the waters gushed out.” (110) These words merely mean that the Jews, like other people, found springs in the desert, at which they quenched their thirst; for when the Jews returned to Jerusalem with the consent of Cyrus, it is admitted that no similar miracles befell them.

(111) In this way many occurrences in the Bible are to be regarded merely as Jewish expressions. (112) There is no need for me to go through them in detail; but I will call attention generally to the fact that the Jews employed such phrases not only rhetorically, but also, and indeed chiefly, from devotional motives. (113) Such is the reason for the substitution of “bless God” for “curse God” in 1 Kings xxi:10, and Job ii:9, and for all things being referred to God, whence it appears that the Bible seems to relate nothing but miracles, even when speaking of the most ordinary occurrences, as in the examples given above.

(114) Hence we must believe that when the Bible says that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, it only means that Pharaoh was obstinate; when it says that God opened the windows of heaven, it only means that it rained very hard, and so on. (115) When we reflect on these peculiarities, and also on the fact that most things are related very shortly, with very little details and almost in abridgments, we shall see that there is hardly anything in Scripture which can be proved contrary to natural reason, while, on the other hand, many things which before seemed obscure, will after a little consideration be understood and easily explained.

(116) I think I have now very clearly explained all that I proposed to explain, but before I finish this chapter I would call attention to the fact that I have adopted a different method in speaking of miracles to that which I employed in treating of prophecy. (117) Of prophecy I have asserted nothing which could not be inferred from promises revealed in Scripture, whereas in this chapter I have deduced my conclusions solely from the principles ascertained by the natural light of reason. (118) I have proceeded in this way advisedly, for prophecy, in that it surpasses human knowledge, is a purely theological question; therefore, I knew that I could not make any assertions about it, nor learn wherein it consists, except through deductions from premises that have been revealed; therefore I was compelled to collate the history of prophecy, and to draw therefrom certain conclusions which would teach me, in so far as such teaching is possible, the nature and properties of the gift. (119) But in the case of miracles, as our inquiry is a question purely philosophical (namely, whether anything can happen which contravenes or does not follow from the laws of nature), I was not under any such necessity: I therefore thought it wiser to unravel the difficulty through premises ascertained and thoroughly known by could also easily have solved the problem merely from the doctrines and fundamental principles of Scripture: in order that everyone may acknowledge this, I will briefly show how it could be done.

(120) Scripture makes the general assertion in several passages that nature’s course is fixed and unchangeable. (121) In Ps. cxlviii:6, for instance, and Jer. xxxi:35. (122) The wise man also, in Eccles. i:10, distinctly teaches that “there is nothing new under the sun,” and in verses 11, 12, illustrating the same idea, he adds that although something occasionally happens which seems new, it is not really new, but “hath been already of old time, which was before us, whereof there is no remembrance, neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that come after.” (123) Again in chap. iii:11, he says, “God hath made everything beautiful in his time,” and immediately afterwards adds, “I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it.”

(124) Now all these texts teach most distinctly that nature preserves a fixed and unchangeable order, and that God in all ages, known and unknown, has been the same; further, that the laws of nature are so perfect, that nothing can be added thereto nor taken therefrom; and, lastly, that miracles only appear as something new because of man’s ignorance.

(125) Such is the express teaching of Scripture: nowhere does Scripture assert that anything happens which contradicts, or cannot follow from the laws of nature; and, therefore, we should not attribute to it such a doctrine.

(126) To these considerations we must add, that miracles require causes and attendant circumstances, and that they follow, not from some mysterious royal power which the masses attribute to God, but from the Divine rule and decree, that is (as we have shown from Scripture itself) from the laws and order of nature; lastly, that miracles can be wrought even by false prophets, as is proved from Deut. xiii. and Matt. xxiv:24.

(127) The conclusion, then, that is most plainly put before us is, that miracles were natural occurrences, and must therefore be so explained as to appear neither new (in the words of Solomon) nor contrary to nature, but, as far as possible, in complete agreement with ordinary events. (128) This can easily be done by anyone, now that I have set forth the rules drawn from Scripture. (129) Nevertheless, though I maintain that Scripture teaches this doctrine, I do not assert that it teaches it as a truth necessary to salvation, but only that the prophets were in agreement with ourselves on the point; therefore everyone is free to think on the subject as he likes, according as he thinks it best for himself, and most likely to conduce to the worship of God and to singlehearted religion.

(130) This is also the opinion of Josephus, for at the conclusion of the second book of his “Antiquities,” he writes: Let no man think this story incredible of the sea’s dividing to save these people, for we find it in ancient records that this hath been seen before, whether by God’s extraordinary will or by the course of nature it is indifferent. (131) The same thing happened one time to the Macedonians, under the command of Alexander, when for want of another passage the Pamphylian Sea divided to make them way; God’s Providence making use of Alexander at that time as His instrument for destroying the Persian Empire. (132) This is attested by all the historians who have pretended to write the Life of that Prince. (133) But people are at liberty to think what they please.”

(134) Such are the words of Josephus, and such is his opinion on faith in miracles.


(1) When people declare, as all are ready, to do, that the Bible is the Word of God teaching man true blessedness and the way of salvation, they evidently do not mean what they, say; for the masses take no pains at all to live according to Scripture, and we see most people endeavouring to hawk about their own commentaries as the word of God, and giving their best efforts, under the guise of religion, to compelling others to think as they do: we generally see, I say, theologians anxious to learn how to wring their inventions and sayings out of the sacred text, and to fortify, them with Divine authority. (2) Such persons never display, less scruple or more zeal than when they, are interpreting Scripture or the mind of the Holy Ghost; if we ever see them perturbed, it is not that they fear to attribute some error to the Holy Spirit, and to stray from the right path, but that they are afraid to be convicted of error by, others, and thus to overthrow and bring into contempt their own authority. (3) But if men really believed what they verbally testify of Scripture, they would adopt quite a different plan of life: their minds would not be agitated by so many contentions, nor so many hatreds, and they would cease to be excited by such a blind and rash passion for interpreting the sacred writings, and excogitating novelties in religion. (4) On the contrary, they would not dare to adopt, as the teaching of Scripture, anything which they could not plainly deduce therefrom: lastly, those sacrilegious persons who have dared, in several passages, to interpolate the Bible, would have shrunk from so great a crime, and would have stayed their sacrilegious hands.

(5) Ambition and unscrupulousness have waxed so powerful, that religion is thought to consist, not so much in respecting the writings of the Holy Ghost, as in defending human commentaries, so that religion is no longer identified with charity, but with spreading discord and propagating insensate hatred disguised under the name of zeal for the Lord, and eager ardour.

(6) To these evils we must add superstition, which teaches men to despise reason and nature, and only to admire and venerate that which is repugnant to both: whence it is not wonderful that for the sake of increasing the admiration and veneration felt for Scripture, men strive to explain it so as to make it appear to contradict, as far as possible, both one and the other: thus they dream that most profound mysteries lie hid in the Bible, and weary themselves out in the investigation of these absurdities, to the neglect of what is useful. (7) Every result of their diseased imagination they attribute to the Holy Ghost, and strive to defend with the utmost zeal and passion; for it is an observed fact that men employ their reason to defend conclusions arrived at by reason, but conclusions arrived at by the passions are defended by the passions.

(8) If we would separate ourselves from the crowd and escape from theological prejudices, instead of rashly accepting human commentaries for Divine documents, we must consider the true method of interpreting Scripture and dwell upon it at some length: for if we remain in ignorance of this we cannot know, certainly, what the Bible and the Holy Spirit wish to teach.

(9)I may sum up the matter by saying that the method of interpreting Scripture does not widely differ from the method of interpreting nature – in fact, it is almost the same. (10) For as the interpretation of nature consists in the examination of the history of nature, and therefrom deducing definitions of natural phenomena on certain fixed axioms, so Scriptural interpretation proceeds by the examination of Scripture, and inferring the intention of its authors as a legitimate conclusion from its fundamental principles. (11) By working in this manner everyone will always advance without danger of error – that is, if they admit no principles for interpreting Scripture, and discussing its contents save such as they find in Scripture itself – and will be able with equal security to discuss what surpasses our understanding, and what is known by the natural light of reason.

(12) In order to make clear that such a method is not only correct, but is also the only one advisable, and that it agrees with that employed in interpreting nature, I must remark that Scripture very often treats of matters which cannot be deduced from principles known to reason: for it is chiefly made up of narratives and revelation: the narratives generally contain miracles – that is, as we have shown in the last chapter, relations of extraordinary natural occurrences adapted to the opinions and judgment of the historians who recorded them: the revelations also were adapted to the opinions of the prophets, as we showed in Chap. II., and in themselves surpassed human comprehension. (13) Therefore the knowledge of all these – that is, of nearly the whole contents of Scripture, must be sought from Scripture alone, even as the knowledge of nature is sought from nature. (14) As for the moral doctrines which are also contained in the Bible, they may be demonstrated from received axioms, but we cannot prove in the same manner that Scripture intended to teach them, this can only be learned from Scripture itself.

(15) If we would bear unprejudiced witness to the Divine origin of Scripture, we must prove solely on its own authority that it teaches true moral doctrines, for by such means alone can its Divine origin be demonstrated: we have shown that the certitude of the prophets depended chiefly on their having minds turned towards what is just and good, therefore we ought to have proof of their possessing this quality before we repose faith in them. (16) From miracles God’s divinity cannot be proved, as I have already shown, and need not now repeat, for miracles could be

wrought by false prophets. (17) Wherefore the Divine origin of Scripture must consist solely in its teaching true virtue. (18) But we must come to our conclusion simply on Scriptural grounds, for if we were unable to do so we could not, unless strongly prejudiced accept the Bible and bear witness to its Divine origin.

(19) Our knowledge of Scripture must then be looked for in Scripture only.

(20) Lastly, Scripture does not give us definition of things any more than nature does: therefore, such definitions must be sought in the latter case from the diverse workings of nature; in the former case, from the various narratives about the given subject which occur in the Bible.

(21) The universal rule, then, in interpreting Scripture is to accept nothing as an authoritative Scriptural statement which we do not perceive very clearly when we examine it in the light of its history. (22) What I mean by its history, and what should be the chief points elucidated, I will now explain.

(23) The history of a Scriptural statement comprises –

(23) I. The nature and properties of the language in which the books of the Bible were written, and in which their authors were, accustomed to speak. (24) We shall thus be able to investigate every expression by comparison with common conversational usages.

(25) Now all the writers both of the Old Testament and the New were Hebrews: therefore, a knowledge of the Hebrew language is before all things necessary, not only for the comprehension of the Old Testament, which was written in that tongue, but also of the New: for although the latter was published in other languages, yet its characteristics are Hebrew.

(26) II. An analysis of each book and arrangement of its contents under heads; so that we may have at hand the various texts which treat of a given subject. (27) Lastly, a note of all the passages which are ambiguous or obscure, or which seem mutually contradictory.

(28) I call passages clear or obscure according as their meaning is inferred easily or with difficulty in relation to the context, not according as their truth is perceived easily or the reverse by reason. (29) We are at work not on the truth of passages, but solely on their meaning. (30) We must take especial care, when we are in search of the meaning of a text, not to be led away by our reason in so far as it is founded on principles of natural knowledge (to say nothing of prejudices): in order not to confound the meaning of a passage with its truth, we must examine it solely by means of the signification of the words, or by a reason acknowledging no foundation but Scripture.

(31) I will illustrate my meaning by an example. (32) The words of Moses, “God is a fire” and “God is jealous,” are perfectly clear so long as we regard merely the signification of the words, and I therefore reckon them

among the clear passages, though in relation to reason and truth they are most obscure: still, although the literal meaning is repugnant to the natural light of reason, nevertheless, if it cannot be clearly overruled on grounds and principles derived from its Scriptural “history,” it, that is, the literal meaning, must be the one retained: and contrariwise if these passages literally interpreted are found to clash with principles derived from Scripture, though such literal interpretation were in absolute harmony with reason, they must be interpreted in a different manner, i.e. metaphorically.

(33) If we would know whether Moses believed God to be a fire or not, we must on no account decide the question on grounds of the reasonableness or the reverse of such an opinion, but must judge solely by the other opinions of Moses which are on record.

(34) In the present instance, as Moses says in several other passages that God has no likeness to any visible thing, whether in heaven or in earth, or in the water, either all such passages must be taken metaphorically, or else the one before us must be so explained. (35) However, as we should depart as little as possible from the literal sense, we must first ask whether this text, God is a fire, admits of any but the literal meaning – that is, whether the word fire ever means anything besides ordinary natural fire. (36) If no such second meaning can be found, the text must be taken literally, however repugnant to reason it may be: and all the other passages, though in complete accordance with reason, must be brought into harmony with it. (37) If the verbal expressions would not admit of being thus harmonized, we should have to set them down as irreconcilable, and suspend our judgment concerning them. (38) However, as we find the name fire applied to anger and jealousy (see Job xxxi:12) we can thus easily reconcile the words of Moses, and legitimately conclude that the two propositions God is a fire, and God is jealous, are in meaning identical.

(39) Further, as Moses clearly teaches that God is jealous, and nowhere states that God is without passions or emotions, we must evidently infer that Moses held this doctrine himself, or at any rate, that he wished to teach it, nor must we refrain because such a belief seems contrary to reason: for as we have shown, we cannot wrest the meaning of texts to suit the dictates of our reason, or our preconceived opinions. (40) The whole knowledge of the Bible must be sought solely from itself.

(41) III. Lastly, such a history should relate the environment of all the prophetic books extant; that is, the life, the conduct, and the studies of the author of each book, who he was, what was the occasion, and the epoch of his writing, whom did he write for, and in what language. (42) Further, it should inquire into the fate of each book: how it was first received, into whose hands it fell, how many different versions there were of it, by whose advice was it received into the Bible, and, lastly, how all the books now universally accepted as sacred, were united into a single whole.

(43) All such information should, as I have said, be contained in the “history” of Scripture. (44) For, in order to know what statements are set forth as laws, and what as moral precepts, it is important to be acquainted with the life, the conduct, and the pursuits of their author: moreover, it becomes easier to explain a man’s writings in proportion as we have more intimate knowledge of his genius and temperament.

(45) Further, that we may not confound precepts which are eternal with those which served only a temporary purpose, or were only meant for a few, we should know what was the occasion, the time, the age, in which each book was written, and to what nation it was addressed.(46) Lastly, we should have knowledge on the other points I have mentioned, in order to be sure, in addition to the authenticity of the work, that it has not been tampered with by sacrilegious hands, or whether errors can have crept in, and, if so, whether they have been corrected by men sufficiently skilled and worthy of credence. (47) All these things should be known, that we may not be led away by blind impulse to accept whatever is thrust on our notice, instead of only that which is sure and indisputable.

(48) Now when we are in possession of this history of Scripture, and have finally decided that we assert nothing as prophetic doctrine which does not directly follow from such history, or which is not clearly deducible from it, then, I say, it will be time to gird ourselves for the task of investigating the mind of the prophets and of the Holy Spirit. (49) But in this further arguing, also, we shall require a method very like that employed in interpreting nature from her history. (50) As in the examination of natural phenomena we try first to investigate what is most universal and common to all nature – such, for instance, as motion and rest, and their laws and rules, which nature always observes, and through which she continually works – and then we proceed to what is less universal; so, too, in the history of Scripture, we seek first for that which is most universal, and serves for the basis and foundation of all Scripture, a doctrine, in fact, that is commended by all the prophets as eternal and most profitable to all men. (51) For example, that God is one, and that He is omnipotent, that He alone should be worshipped, that He has a care for all men, and that He especially loves those who adore Him and love their neighbour as themselves, &c. (52) These and similar doctrines, I repeat, Scripture everywhere so clearly and expressly teaches, that no one was ever in doubt of its meaning concerning them.

(53) The nature of God, His manner of regarding and providing for things, and similar doctrines, Scripture nowhere teaches professedly, and as eternal doctrine; on the contrary, we have shown that the prophets themselves did not agree on the subject; therefore, we must not lay down any doctrine as Scriptural on such subjects, though it may appear perfectly clear on rational grounds.

(54) From a proper knowledge of this universal doctrine of Scripture, we must then proceed to other doctrines less universal, but which, nevertheless, have regard to the general conduct of life, and flow from the universal doctrine like rivulets from a source; such are all particular external manifestations of true virtue, which need a given occasion for their exercise; whatever is obscure or ambiguous on such points in Scripture must be explained and defined by its universal doctrine; with regard to contradictory instances, we must observe the occasion and the time in which they were written. (55) For instance, when Christ says, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” we do not know, from the actual passage, what sort of mourners are meant; as, however, Christ afterwards teaches that we should have care for nothing, save only for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, which is commended as the highest good (see Matt. vi;33), it follows that by mourners He only meant those who mourn for the kingdom of God and righteousness neglected by man: for this would be the only cause of mourning to those who love nothing but the Divine kingdom and justice, and who evidently despise the gifts of fortune. (56) So, too, when Christ says: “But if a man strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the left also,” and the words which follow.

(57) If He had given such a command, as a lawgiver, to judges, He would thereby have abrogated the law of Moses, but this He expressly says He did not do (Matt. v:17). (58) Wherefore we must consider who was the speaker, what was the occasion, and to whom were the words addressed. (59) Now Christ said that He did not ordain laws as a legislator, but inculcated precepts as a teacher: inasmuch as He did not aim at correcting outward actions so much as the frame of mind. (60) Further, these words were spoken to men who were oppressed, who lived in a corrupt commonwealth on the brink of ruin, where justice was utterly neglected. (61) The very doctrine inculcated here by Christ just before the destruction of the city was also taught by Jeremiah before the first destruction of Jerusalem, that is, in similar circumstances, as we see from Lamentations iii:25-30.

(62) Now as such teaching was only set forth by the prophets in times of oppression, and was even then never laid down as a law; and as, on the other hand, Moses (who did not write in times of oppression, but – mark this – strove to found a well-ordered commonwealth), while condemning envy and hatred of one’s neighbour, yet ordained that an eye should be given for an eye, it follows most clearly from these purely Scriptural grounds that this precept of Christ and Jeremiah concerning submission to injuries was only valid in places where justice is neglected, and in a time of oppression, but does not hold good in a well-ordered state.

(63) In a well-ordered state where justice is administered every one is bound, if he would be accounted just, to demand penalties before the judge (see Lev:1), not for the sake of vengeance (Lev. xix:17, 18), but in order to defend justice and his country’s laws, and to prevent the wicked rejoicing in their wickedness. (64) All this is plainly in accordance with reason. (65) I might cite many other examples in the same manner, but I think the foregoing are sufficient to explain my meaning and the utility of this method, and this is all my present purpose. (66) Hitherto we have only shown how to investigate those passages of Scripture which treat of practical conduct, and which, therefore, are more easily examined, for on such subjects there was never really any controversy among the writers of the Bible.

(67) The purely speculative passages cannot be so easily, traced to their real meaning: the way becomes narrower, for as the prophets differed in matters speculative among themselves, and the narratives are in great measure adapted to the prejudices of each age, we must not, on any, account infer the intention of one prophet from clearer passages in the writings of another; nor must we so explain his meaning, unless it is perfectly plain that the two prophets were at one in the matter.

(68) How we are to arrive at the intention of the prophets in such cases I will briefly explain. (69) Here, too, we must begin from the most universal proposition, inquiring first from the most clear Scriptural statements what is the nature of prophecy or revelation, and wherein does it consist; then we must proceed to miracles, and so on to whatever is most general till we come to the opinions of a particular prophet, and, at last, to the meaning of a particular revelation, prophecy, history, or miracle. (70) We have already pointed out that great caution is necessary not to confound the mind of a prophet or historian with the mind of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the matter; therefore I need not dwell further on the subject. (71) I would, however, here remark concerning the meaning of revelation, that the present method only teaches us what the prophets really saw or heard, not what they desired to signify or represent by symbols. (72) The latter may be guessed at but cannot be inferred with certainty from Scriptural premises.

(73) We have thus shown the plan for interpreting Scripture, and have, at the same time, demonstrated that it is the one and surest way of investigating its true meaning. (74) I am willing indeed to admit that those persons (if any such there be) would be more absolutely certainly right, who have received either a trustworthy tradition or an assurance from the prophets themselves, such as is claimed by the Pharisees; or who have a pontiff gifted with infallibility in the interpretation of Scripture, such as the Roman Catholics boast. (75) But as we can never be perfectly sure, either of such a tradition or of the authority of the pontiff, we cannot found any certain conclusion on either: the one is denied by the oldest sect of Christians, the other by the oldest sect of Jews. (76) Indeed, if we consider the series of years (to mention no other point) accepted by the Pharisees from their Rabbis, during which time they say they have handed down the tradition from Moses, we shall find that it is not correct, as I show elsewhere. (77) Therefore such a tradition should be received with extreme suspicion; and although, according to our method, we are bound to consider as uncorrupted the tradition of the Jews, namely, the meaning of the Hebrew words which we received from them, we may accept the latter while retaining our doubts about the former.

(78) No one has ever been able to change the meaning of a word in ordinary use, though many have changed the meaning of a particular sentence. (79) Such a proceeding would be most difficult; for whoever attempted to change the meaning of a word, would be compelled, at the same time, to explain all the authors who employed it, each according to his temperament and intention, or else, with consummate cunning, to falsify them.

(80) Further, the masses and the learned alike preserve language, but it is only the learned who preserve the meaning of particular sentences and books: thus, we may easily imagine that the learned having a very rare book in their power, might change or corrupt the meaning of a sentence in it, but they could not alter the signification of the words; moreover, if anyone wanted to change the meaning of a common word he would not be able to keep up the change among posterity, or in common parlance or writing.

(81) For these and such-like reasons we may readily conclude that it would never enter into the mind of anyone to corrupt a language, though the intention of a writer may often have been falsified by changing his phrases or interpreting them amiss. (82) As then our method (based on the principle that the knowledge of Scripture must be sought from itself alone) is the sole true one, we must evidently renounce any knowledge which it cannot furnish for the complete understanding of Scripture. (83) I will now point out its difficulties and shortcomings, which prevent our gaining a complete and assured knowledge of the Sacred Text.

(84) Its first great difficulty consists in its requiring a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew language. (85) Where is such knowledge to be obtained? (86) The men of old who employed the Hebrew tongue have left none of the principles and bases of their language to posterity; we have from them absolutely nothing in the way of dictionary, grammar, or rhetoric.

(87) Now the Hebrew nation has lost all its grace and beauty (as one would expect after the defeats and persecutions it has gone through), and has only retained certain fragments of its language and of a few books. (88) Nearly all the names of fruits, birds, and fishes, and many other words have perished in the wear and tear of time. (89) Further, the meaning of many nouns and verbs which occur in the Bible are either utterly lost, or are subjects of dispute. (90) And not only are these gone, but we are lacking in a knowledge of Hebrew phraseology. (91) The devouring tooth of time has destroyed turns of expression peculiar to the Hebrews, so that we know them no more.

(92) Therefore we cannot investigate as we would all the meanings of a sentence by the uses of the language; and there are many phrases of which the meaning is most obscure or altogether inexplicable, though the component words are perfectly plain.

(93) To this impossibility of tracing the history of the Hebrew language must be added its particular nature and composition: these give rise to so many ambiguities that it is impossible to find a method which would enable us to gain a certain knowledge of all the statements in Scripture, [Endnote 7]. (94) In addition to the sources of ambiguities common to all languages, there are many peculiar to Hebrew. (95) These, I think, it worth while to mention.

(96) Firstly, an ambiguity often arises in the Bible from our mistaking one letter for another similar one. (97) The Hebrews divide the letters of the alphabet into five classes, according to the five organs of the month employed in pronouncing them, namely, the lips, the tongue, the teeth, the palate, and the throat. (98) For instance, Alpha, Ghet, Hgain, He, are called gutturals, and are barely distinguishable, by any sign that we know, one from the other. (99) El, which signifies to, is often taken for hgal, which signifies above, and vice versa. (100) Hence sentences are often rendered rather ambiguous or meaningless.

(101) A second difficulty arises from the multiplied meaning of conjunctions and adverbs. (102) For instance, vau serves promiscuously for a particle of union or of separation, meaning, and, but, because, however, then: ki, has seven or eight meanings, namely, wherefore, although, if, when, inasmuch as, because, a burning, &c., and so on with almost all particles.

(103) The third very fertile source of doubt is the fact that Hebrew verbs in the indicative mood lack the present, the past imperfect, the pluperfect, the future perfect, and other tenses most frequently employed in other languages; in the imperative and infinitive moods they are wanting in all except the present, and a subjunctive mood does not exist. (104) Now, although all these defects in moods and tenses may be supplied by certain fundamental rules of the language with ease and even elegance, the ancient writers evidently neglected such rules altogether, and employed indifferently future for present and past, and vice versa past for future, and also indicative for imperative and subjunctive, with the result of considerable confusion.

(105) Besides these sources of ambiguity there are two others, one very important. (106) Firstly, there are in Hebrew no vowels; secondly, the sentences are not separated by any marks elucidating the meaning or separating the clauses. (107) Though the want of these two has generally been supplied by points and accents, such substitutes cannot be accepted by us, inasmuch as they were invented and designed by men of an after age whose authority should carry no weight. (108) The ancients wrote without points (that is, without vowels and accents), as is abundantly testified; their descendants added what was lacking, according to their own ideas of Scriptural interpretation; wherefore the existing accents and points are simply current interpretations, and are no more authoritative than any other commentaries.

(109) Those who are ignorant of this fact cannot justify the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews for interpreting (chap. xi;21) Genesis (xlvii:31) very differently from the version given in our Hebrew text as at present pointed, as though the Apostle had been obliged to learn the meaning of Scripture from those who added the points. (110) In my opinion the latter are clearly wrong. (111) In order that everyone may judge for himself, and also see how the discrepancy arose simply from the want of vowels, I will give both interpretations. (112)Those who pointed our version read, “And Israel bent himself over, or (changing Hqain into Aleph, a similar letter) towards, the head of the bed.” (113) The author of the Epistle reads, “And Israel bent himself over the head of his staff,” substituting mate for mita, from which it only differs in respect of vowels. (114) Now as in this narrative it is Jacob’s age only that is in question, and not his illness, which is not touched on till the next chapter, it seems more likely that the historian intended to say that Jacob bent over the head of his staff (a thing commonly used by men of advanced age for their support) than that he bowed himself at the head of his bed, especially as for the former reading no substitution of letters is required. (115) In this example I have desired not only to reconcile the passage in the Epistle with the passage in Genesis, but also and chiefly to illustrate how little trust should be placed in the points and accents which are found in our present Bible, and so to prove that he who would be without bias in interpreting Scripture should hesitate about accepting them, and inquire afresh for himself. (116) Such being the nature and structure of the Hebrew language, one may easily understand that many difficulties are likely to arise, and that no possible method could solve all of them. (117) It is useless to hope for a way out of our difficulties in the comparison of various parallel passages (we have shown that the only method of discovering the true sense of a passage out of many alternative ones is to see what are the usages of the language), for this comparison of parallel passages can only accidentally throw light on a difficult point, seeing that the prophets never wrote with the express object of explaining their own phrases or those of other people, and also because we cannot infer the meaning of one prophet or apostle by the meaning of another, unless on a purely practical question, not when the matter is speculative, or if a miracle, or history is being narrated. (118) I might illustrate my point with instances, for there are many inexplicable phrases in Scripture, but I would rather pass on to consider the difficulties and imperfections of the method under discussion.

(119) A further difficulty attends the method, from the fact that it requires the history of all that has happened to every book in the Bible; such a history we are often quite unable to furnish. (120) Of the authors, or (if the expression be preferred), the writers of many of the books, we are either in complete ignorance, or at any rate in doubt, as I will point out at length. (121) Further, we do not know either the occasions or the epochs when these books of unknown authorship were written; we cannot say into what hands they fell, nor how the numerous varying versions originated; nor, lastly, whether there were not other versions, now lost. (122) I have briefly shown that such knowledge is necessary, but I passed over certain considerations which I will now draw attention to.

(123) If we read a book which contains incredible or impossible narratives, or is written in a very obscure style, and if we know nothing of its author, nor of the time or occasion of its being written, we shall vainly endeavour to gain any certain knowledge of its true meaning. (124) For being in ignorance on these points we cannot possibly know the aim or intended aim of the author; if we are fully informed, we so order our thoughts as not to be in any way prejudiced either in ascribing to the author or him for whom the author wrote either more or less than his meaning, and we only take into consideration what the author may have had in his mind, or what the time and occasion demanded. (125) I think this must be tolerably evident to all.

(126) It often happens that in different books we read histories in themselves similar, but which we judge very differently, according to the opinions we have formed of the authors. (127) I remember once to have read in some book that a man named Orlando Furioso used to drive a kind of winged monster through the air, fly over any countries he liked, kill unaided vast numbers of men and giants, and such like fancies, which from the point of view of reason are obviously absurd. (128) A very similar story I read in Ovid of Perseus, and also in the books of Judges and Kings of Samson, who alone and unarmed killed thousands of men, and of Elijah, who flew through the air, said at last went up to heaven in a chariot of fire, with horses of fire. (129) All these stories are obviously alike, but we judge them very differently. (130) The first only sought to amuse, the second had a political object, the third a religious object.(131) We gather this simply from the opinions we had previously formed of the authors. (132) Thus it is evidently necessary to know something of the authors of writings which are obscure or unintelligible, if we would interpret their meaning; and for the same reason, in order to choose the proper reading from among a great variety, we ought to have information as to the versions in which the differences are found, and as to the possibility of other readings having been discovered by persons of greater authority.

(133) A further difficulty attends this method in the case of some of the books of Scripture, namely, that they are no longer extant in their original language. (133) The Gospel according to Matthew, and certainly the Epistle to the Hebrews, were written, it is thought, in Hebrew, though they no longer exist in that form. (134) Aben Ezra affirms in his commentaries that the book of Job was translated into Hebrew out of another language, and that its obscurity arises from this fact. (135) I say nothing of the apocryphal books, for their authority stands on very inferior ground.

(136) The foregoing difficulties in this method of interpreting Scripture from its own history, I conceive to be so great that I do not hesitate to say that the true meaning of Scripture is in many places inexplicable, or at best mere subject for guesswork; but I must again point out, on the other hand, that such difficulties only arise when we endeavour to follow the meaning of a prophet in matters which cannot be perceived, but only imagined, not in things, whereof the understanding can give a clear idea, and which are conceivable through themselves:, [Endnote 8], matters which by their nature are easily perceived cannot be expressed so obscurely as to be unintelligible; as the proverb says, “a word is enough to the wise.” (137) Euclid, who only wrote of matters very simple and easily understood, can easily be comprehended by anyone in any language; we can follow his intention perfectly,, and be certain of his true meaning, without having a thorough knowledge of the language in which he wrote; in fact, a quite rudimentary acquaintance is sufficient. (138) We need make no researches concerning the life, the pursuits, or the habits of the author; nor need we inquire in what language, nor when he wrote, nor the vicissitudes of his book, nor its various readings, nor how, nor by whose advice it has been received.

(139) What we here say of Euclid might equally be said of any book which treats of things by their nature perceptible: thus we conclude that we can easily follow the intention of Scripture in moral questions, from the history we possess of it, and we can be sure of its true meaning.

(140) The precepts of true piety are expressed in very ordinary language, and are equally simple and easily understood. (141) Further, as true salvation and blessedness consist in a true assent of the soul – and we truly assent only to what we clearly understand – it is most plain that we can follow with certainty the intention of Scripture in matters relating to salvation and necessary to blessedness; therefore, we need not be much troubled about what remains: such matters, inasmuch as we generally cannot grasp them with our reason and understanding, are more curious than profitable.

(142) I think I have now set forth the true method of Scriptural interpretation, and have sufficiently explained my own opinion thereon. (143) Besides, I do not doubt that everyone will see that such a method only requires the aid of natural reason. (144) The nature and efficacy of the natural reason consists in deducing and proving the unknown from the known, or in carrying premises to their legitimate conclusions; and these are the very processes which our method desiderates. (145) Though we must admit that it does not suffice to explain everything in the Bible, such imperfection does not spring from its own nature, but from the fact that the path which it teaches us, as the true one, has never been tended or trodden by men, and has thus, by the lapse of time, become very difficult, and almost impassable, as, indeed, I have shown in the difficulties I draw attention to.

(146) There only remains to examine the opinions of those who differ from me. (147) The first which comes under our notice is, that the light of nature has no power to interpret Scripture, but that a supernatural faculty is required for the task. (148) What is meant by this supernatural faculty I will leave to its propounders to explain. (149) Personally, I can only suppose that they have adopted a very obscure way of stating their complete uncertainty about the true meaning of Scripture. (150) If we look at their interpretations, they contain nothing supernatural, at least nothing but the merest conjectures.

(151) Let them be placed side by side with the interpretations of those who frankly confess that they have no faculty beyond their natural ones; we shall see that the two are just alike – both human, both long pondered over, both laboriously invented. (152) To say that the natural reason is insufficient for such results is plainly untrue, firstly, for the reasons above stated, namely, that the difficulty of interpreting Scripture arises from no defect in human reason, but simply from the carelessness (not to say malice) of men who neglected the history of the Bible while there were still materials for inquiry; secondly, from the fact (admitted, I think, by all) that the supernatural faculty is a Divine gift granted only to the faithful. (153) But the prophets and apostles did not preach to the faithful only, but chiefly to the unfaithful and wicked. (154) Such persons, therefore, were able to understand the intention of the prophets and apostles, otherwise the prophets and apostles would have seemed to be preaching to little boys and infants, not to men endowed with reason. (155) Moses, too, would have given his laws in vain, if they could only be comprehended by the faithful, who need no law. (156) Indeed, those who demand supernatural faculties for comprehending the meaning of the prophets and apostles seem truly lacking in natural faculties, so that we should hardly suppose such persons the possessors of a Divine supernatural gift.

(157) The opinion of Maimonides was widely different. (158) He asserted that each passage in Scripture admits of various, nay, contrary, meanings; but that we could never be certain of any particular one till we knew that the passage, as we interpreted it, contained nothing contrary or repugnant to reason. (159) If the literal meaning clashes with reason, though the passage seems in itself perfectly clear, it must be interpreted in some metaphorical sense. (160) This doctrine he lays down very plainly in chap. xxv. part ii. of his book, “More Nebuchim,” for he says: “Know that we shrink not from affirming that the world hath existed from eternity, because of what Scripture saith concerning the world’s creation. (161) For the texts which teach that the world was created are not more in number than those which teach that God hath a body; neither are the approaches in this matter of the world’s creation closed, or even made hard to us: so that we should not be able to explain what is written, as we did when we showed that God hath no body, nay, peradventure, we could explain and make fast the doctrine of the world’s eternity more easily than we did away with the doctrines that God hath a beatified body. (162) Yet two things hinder me from doing as I have said, and believing that the world is eternal. (163) As it hath been clearly shown that God hath not a body, we must perforce explain all those passages whereof the literal sense agreeth not with the demonstration, for sure it is that they can be so explained. (164) But the eternity of the world hath not been so demonstrated, therefore it is not necessary to do violence to Scripture in support of some common opinion, whereof we might, at the bidding of reason, embrace the contrary.”

(165) Such are the words of Maimonides, and they are evidently sufficient to establish our point: for if he had been convinced by reason that the world is eternal, he would not have hesitated to twist and explain away the words of Scripture till he made them appear to teach this doctrine. (166) He would have felt quite sure that Scripture, though everywhere plainly denying the eternity of the world, really intends to teach it. (167) So that, however clear the meaning of Scripture may be, he would not feel certain of having grasped it, so long as he remained doubtful of the truth of what, was written. (168) For we are in doubt whether a thing is in conformity with reason, or contrary thereto, so long as we are uncertain of its truth, and, consequently, we cannot be sure whether the literal meaning of a passage be true or false.

(169) If such a theory as this were sound, I would certainly grant that some faculty beyond the natural reason is required for interpreting Scripture. (170) For nearly all things that we find in Scripture cannot be inferred from known principles of the natural reason, and, therefore, we should be unable to come to any conclusion about their truth, or about the real meaning and intention of Scripture, but should stand in need of some further assistance.

(171) Further, the truth of this theory would involve that the masses, having generally no comprehension of, nor leisure for, detailed proofs, would be reduced to receiving all their knowledge of Scripture on the authority and testimony of philosophers, and, consequently, would be compelled to suppose that the interpretations given by philosophers were infallible.

(172) Truly this would be a new form of ecclesiastical authority, and a new sort of priests or pontiffs, more likely to excite men’s ridicule than their veneration. (173) Certainly our method demands a knowledge of Hebrew for which the masses have no leisure; but no such objection as the foregoing can be brought against us. (174) For the ordinary Jews or Gentiles, to whom the prophets and apostles preached and wrote, understood the language, and, consequently, the intention of the prophet or apostle addressing them; but they did not grasp the intrinsic reason of what was preached, which, according to Maimonides, would be necessary for an understanding of it.

(175) There is nothing, then, in our method which renders it necessary that the masses should follow the testimony of commentators, for I point to a set of unlearned people who understood the language of the prophets and apostles; whereas Maimonides could not point to any such who could arrive at the prophetic or apostolic meaning through their knowledge of the causes of things.

(176) As to the multitude of our own time, we have shown that whatsoever is necessary to salvation, though its reasons may be unknown, can easily be understood in any language, because it is thoroughly ordinary and usual; it is in such understanding as this that the masses acquiesce, not in the testimony of commentators; with regard to other questions, the ignorant and the learned fare alike.

(177) But let us return to the opinion of Maimonides, and examine it more closely. In the first place, he supposes that the prophets were in entire agreement one with another, and that they were consummate philosophers and theologians; for he would have them to have based their conclusions on the absolute truth. (178) Further, he supposes that the sense of Scripture cannot be made plain from Scripture itself, for the truth of things is not made plain therein (in that it does not prove any thing, nor teach the matters of which it speaks through their definitions and first causes), therefore, according to Maimonides, the true sense of Scripture cannot be made plain from itself, and must not be there sought.

(179) The falsity of such a doctrine is shown in this very chapter, for we have shown both by reason and examples that the meaning of Scripture is only made plain through Scripture itself, and even in questions deducible from ordinary knowledge should be looked for from no other source.

(180) Lastly, such a theory supposes that we may explain the words of Scripture according to our preconceived opinions, twisting them about, and reversing or completely changing the literal sense, however plain it may be. (181) Such licence is utterly opposed to the teaching of this and the preceding chapters, and, moreover, will be evident to everyone as rash and excessive.

(182) But if we grant all this licence, what can it effect after all? Absolutely nothing. (183) Those things which cannot be demonstrated, and which make up the greater part of Scripture, cannot be examined by reason, and cannot therefore be explained or interpreted by this rule; whereas, on the contrary, by following our own method, we can explain many questions of this nature, and discuss them on a sure basis, as we have already shown, by reason and example. (184) Those matters which are by their nature comprehensible we can easily explain, as has been pointed out, simply by means of the context.

(185) Therefore, the method of Maimonides is clearly useless: to which we may add, that it does away with all the certainty which the masses acquire by candid reading, or which is gained by any other persons in any other way. (186) In conclusion, then, we dismiss Maimonides’ theory as harmful, useless, and absurd.

(187) As to the tradition of the Pharisees, we have already shown that it is not consistent, while the authority of the popes of Rome stands in need of more credible evidence; the latter, indeed, I reject simply on this ground, for if the popes could point out to us the meaning of Scripture as surely as did the high priests of the Jews, I should not be deterred by the fact that there have been heretic and impious Roman pontiffs; for among the Hebrew high-priests of old there were also heretics and impious men who gained the high- priesthood by improper means, but who, nevertheless, had Scriptural sanction for their supreme power of interpreting the law. (See Deut. xvii:11, 12, and xxxiii:10, also Malachi ii:8.)

(188) However, as the popes can show no such sanction, their authority remains open to very grave doubt, nor should anyone be deceived by the example of the Jewish high-priests and think that the Catholic religion also stands in need of a pontiff; he should bear in mind that the laws of Moses being also the ordinary laws of the country, necessarily required some public authority to insure their observance; for, if everyone were free to interpret the laws of his country as he pleased, no state could stand, but would for that very reason be dissolved at once, and public rights would become private rights.

(189) With religion the case is widely different. Inasmuch as it consists not so much in outward actions as in simplicity and truth of character, it stands outside the sphere of law and public authority. (190) Simplicity and truth of character are not produced by the constraint of laws, nor by the authority of the state, no one the whole world over can be forced or legislated into a state of blessedness; the means required for such a consummation are faithful and brotherly admonition, sound education, and, above all, free use of the individual judgment.

(191) Therefore, as the supreme right of free thinking, even on religion, is in every man’s power, and as it is inconceivable that such power could be alienated, it is also in every man’s power to wield the supreme right and authority of free judgment in this behalf, and to explain and interpret religion for himself. (192) The only reason for vesting the supreme authority in the interpretation of law, and judgment on public affairs in the hands of the magistrates, is that it concerns questions of public right. (193) Similarly the supreme authority in explaining religion, and in passing judgment thereon, is lodged with the individual because it concerns questions of individual right. (194) So far, then, from the authority of the Hebrew high-priests telling in confirmation of the authority of the Roman pontiffs to interpret religion, it would rather tend to establish individual freedom of judgment. (195) Thus in this way also, we have shown that our method of interpreting Scripture is the best. (196) For as the highest power of Scriptural interpretation belongs to every man, the rule for such interpretation should be nothing but the natural light of reason which is common to all – not any supernatural light nor any external authority; moreover, such a rule ought not to be so difficult that it can only be applied by very skilful philosophers, but should be adapted to the natural and ordinary faculties and capacity of mankind. (197) And such I have shown our method to be, for such difficulties as it has arise from men’s carelessness, and are no part of its nature.


(1) In the former chapter we treated of the foundations and principles of Scriptural knowledge, and showed that it consists solely in a trustworthy history of the sacred writings; such a history, in spite of its indispensability, the ancients neglected, or at any rate, whatever they may have written or handed down has perished in the lapse of time, consequently the groundwork for such an investigation is to a great extent, cut from under us. (2) This might be put up with if succeeding generations had confined themselves within the limits of truth, and had handed down conscientiously what few particulars they had received or discovered without any additions from their own brains: as it is, the history of the Bible is not so much imperfect as untrustworthy: the foundations are not only too scanty for building upon, but are also unsound. (3) It is part of my purpose to remedy these defects, and to remove common theological prejudices. (4) But I fear that I am attempting my task too late, for men have arrived at the pitch of not suffering contradiction, but defending obstinately whatever they have adopted under the name of religion. (5) So widely have these prejudices taken possession of men’s minds, that very few, comparatively speaking, will listen to reason. (6) However, I will make the attempt, and spare no efforts, for there is no positive reason for despairing of success.

(7) In order to treat the subject methodically, I will begin with the received opinions concerning the true authors of the sacred books, and in the first place, speak of the author of the Pentateuch, who is almost universally supposed to have been Moses. (8) The Pharisees are so firmly convinced of his identity, that they account as a heretic anyone who differs from them on the subject. (9) Wherefore, Aben Ezra, a man of enlightened intelligence, and no small learning, who was the first, so far as I know, to treat of this opinion, dared not express his meaning openly, but confined himself to dark hints which I shall not scruple to elucidate, thus throwing, full light on the subject.

(10) The words of Aben Ezra which occur in his commentary on Deuteronomy are as follows: “Beyond Jordan, &c . . . If so be that thou understandest the mystery of the twelve . . . moreover Moses wrote the law . . . The Canaanite was then in the land . . . . it shall be revealed on the mount of God . . . . then also behold his bed, his iron bed, then shalt thou know the truth.” (11) In these few words he hints, and also shows that it was not Moses who wrote the Pentateuch, but someone who lived long after him, and further, that the book which Moses wrote was something different from any now extant.

(12) To prove this, I say, he draws attention to the facts:

(13) 1. That the preface to Deuteronomy could not have been written by Moses, inasmuch as he ad never crossed the Jordan.

(14) II. That the whole book of Moses was written at full length on the circumference of a single altar (Deut. xxvii, and Josh. viii:37), which altar, according to the Rabbis, consisted of only twelve stones: therefore the book of Moses must have been of far less extent than the Pentateuch. (15) This is what our author means, I think, by the mystery of the twelve, unless he is referring to the twelve curses contained in the chapter of Deuteronomy above cited, which he thought could not have been contained in the law, because Moses bade the Levites read them after the recital of the law, and so bind the people to its observance. (16) Or again, he may have had in his mind the last chapter of Deuteronomy which treats of the death of Moses, and which contains twelve verses. (17) But there is no need to dwell further on these and similar conjectures.

(18) III. That in Deut. xxxi:9, the expression occurs, “and Moses wrote the law:” words that cannot be ascribed to Moses, but must be those of some other writer narrating the deeds and writings of Moses.

(19) IV. That in Genesis xii:6, the historian, after narrating that Abraham journeyed through the and of Canaan, adds, “and the Canaanite was then in the land,” thus clearly excluding the time at which he wrote. (20) So that this passage must have been written after the death of Moses, when the Canaanites had been driven out, and no longer possessed the land.

(21) Aben Ezra, in his commentary on the passage, alludes to the difficulty as follows:- “And the Canaanite was then in the land: it appears that Canaan, the grandson of Noah, took from another the land which bears his name; if this be not the true meaning, there lurks some mystery in the passage, and let him who understands it keep silence.” (22) That is, if Canaan invaded those regions, the sense will be, the Canaanite was then in the land, in contradistinction to the time when it had been held by another: but if, as follows from Gen. chap. x. Canaan was the first to inhabit the land, the text must mean to exclude the time present, that is the time at which it was written; therefore it cannot be the work of Moses, in whose time the Canaanites still possessed those territories: this is the mystery concerning which silence is recommended.

(23) V. That in Genesis xxii:14 Mount Moriah is called the mount of God, [Endnote 9], a name which it did not acquire till after the building of the Temple; the choice of the mountain was not made in the time of Moses, for Moses does not point out any spot as chosen by God; on the contrary, he foretells that God will at some future time choose a spot to which this name will be given.

(24) VI. Lastly, that in Deut. chap. iii., in the passage relating to Og, king of Bashan, these words are inserted: “For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants: behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron: is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man.” (25) This parenthesis most plainly shows that its writer lived long after Moses; for this mode of speaking is only employed by one treating of things long past, and pointing to relics for the sake of gaining credence: moreover, this bed was almost certainly first discovered by David, who conquered the city of Rabbath (2 Sam. xii:30.) (26) Again, the historian a little further on inserts after the words of Moses, “Jair, the son of Manasseh, took all the country of Argob unto the coasts of Geshuri and Maachathi; and called them after his own name, Bashan-havoth-jair, unto this day.” (27) This passage, I say, is inserted to explain the words of Moses which precede it. (28) “And the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, being the kingdom of Og, gave I unto the half tribe of Manasseh; all the region of Argob, with all Bashan, which is called the land of the giants.” (29) The Hebrews in the time of the writer indisputably knew what territories belonged to the tribe of Judah, but did not know them under the name of the jurisdiction of Argob, or the land of the giants. (30) Therefore the writer is compelled to explain what these places were which were anciently so styled, and at the same time to point out why they were at the time of his writing known by the name of Jair, who was of the tribe of Manasseh, not of Judah. (31) We have thus made clear the meaning of Aben Ezra and also the passages of the Pentateuch which he cites in proof of his contention. (32) However, Aben Ezra does not call attention to every instance, or even the chief ones; there remain many of greater importance, which may be cited. (33) Namely (I.), that the writer of the books in question not only speaks of Moses in the third person, but also bears witness to many details concerning him; for instance, “Moses talked with God;” “The Lord spoke with Moses face to face; ” “Moses was the meekest of men” (Numb. xii:3); “Moses was wrath with the captains of the host; “Moses, the man of God, “Moses, the servant of the Lord, died;” “There was never a prophet in Israel like unto Moses,” &c. (34) On the other hand, in Deuteronomy, where the law which Moses had expounded to the people and written is set forth, Moses speaks and declares what he has done in the first person: “God spake with me ” (Deut. ii:1, 17, &c.), “I prayed to the Lord,” &c. (35) Except at the end of the book, when the historian, after relating the words of Moses, begins again to speak in the third person, and to tell how Moses handed over the law which he had expounded to the people in writing, again admonishing them, and further, how Moses ended his life. (36) All these details, the manner of narration, the testimony, and the context of the whole story lead to the plain conclusion that these books were written by another, and not by Moses in person.

(37) III. We must also remark that the history relates not only the manner of Moses’ death and burial, and the thirty days’ mourning of the Hebrews, but further compares him with all the prophets who came after him, and states that he surpassed them all. (38) “There was never a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” (39) Such testimony cannot have been given of Moses by, himself, nor by any who immediately succeeded him, but it must come from someone who lived centuries afterwards, especially, as the historian speaks of past times. (40) “There was never a prophet,” &c. (41) And of the place of burial, “No one knows it to this day.”

(42) III. We must note that some places are not styled by the names they bore during Moses’ lifetime, but by others which they obtained subsequently. (43) For instance, Abraham is said to have pursued his enemies even unto Dan, a name not bestowed on the city till long after the death of Joshua (Gen. xiv;14, Judges xviii;29).

(44) IV. The narrative is prolonged after the death of Moses, for in Exodus xvi:34 we read that ” the children of Israel did eat manna forty years until they came to a land inhabited, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.” (45) In other words, until the time alluded to in Joshua vi:12.

(46) So, too, in Genesis xxxvi:31 it is stated, “These are the kings that reigned in Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.” (47) The historian, doubtless, here relates the kings of Idumaea before that territory was conquered by David [Endnote 10] and garrisoned, as we read in 2 Sam. viii:14. (48) From what has been said, it is thus clearer than the sun at noonday that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by someone who lived long after Moses. (49) Let us now turn our attention to the books which Moses actually did write, and which are cited in the Pentateuch; thus, also, shall we see that they were different from the Pentateuch. (50) Firstly, it appears from Exodus xvii:14 that Moses, by the command of God, wrote an account of the war against Amalek. (51) The book in which he did so is not named in the chapter just quoted, but in Numb. xxi:12 a book is referred to under the title of the wars of God, and doubtless this war against Amalek and the castrametations said in Numb. xxxiii:2 to have been written by Moses are therein described. (52) We hear also in Exod. xxiv:4 of another book called the Book of the Covenant, which Moses read before the Israelites when they first made a covenant with God. (53) But this book or this writing contained very little, namely, the laws or commandments of God which we find in Exodus xx:22 to the end of chap. xxiv., and this no one will deny who reads the aforesaid chapter rationally and impartially. (54) It is there stated that as soon as Moses had learnt the feeling of the people on the subject of making a covenant with God, he immediately wrote down God’s laws and utterances, and in the morning, after some ceremonies had been performed, read out the conditions of the covenant to an assembly of the whole people. (55) When these had been gone through, and doubtless understood by all, the whole people gave their assent.

(56) Now from the shortness of the time taken in its perusal and also from its nature as a compact, this document evidently contained nothing more than that which we have just described. (57) Further, it is clear that Moses explained all the laws which he had received in the fortieth year after the exodus from Egypt; also that he bound over the people a second time to observe them, and that finally he committed them to writing (Deut. i:5; xxix:14; xxxi:9), in a book which contained these laws explained, and the new covenant, and this book was therefore called the book of the law of God: the same which was afterwards added to by Joshua when he set forth the fresh covenant with which he bound over the people and which he entered into with God (Josh. xxiv:25, 26).

(58) Now, as we have extent no book containing this covenant of Moses and also the covenant of Joshua, we must perforce conclude that it has perished, unless, indeed, we adopt the wild conjecture of the Chaldean paraphrast Jonathan, and twist about the words of Scripture to our heart’s content. (59) This commentator, in the face of our present difficulty, preferred corrupting the sacred text to confessing his own ignorance. (60) The passage in the book of Joshua which runs, “and Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God,” he changes into “and Joshua wrote these words and kept them with the book of the law of God.” (61) What is to be done with persons who will only see what pleases them? (62) What is such a proceeding if it is not denying Scripture, and inventing another Bible out of our own heads? (63) We may therefore conclude that the book of the law of God which Moses wrote was not the Pentateuch, but something quite different, which the author of the Pentateuch duly inserted into his book. (64) So much is abundantly plain both from what I have said and from what I am about to add. (65) For in the passage of Deuteronomy above quoted, where it is related that Moses wrote the book of the law, the historian adds that he handed it over to the priests and bade them read it out at a stated time to the whole people. (66) This shows that the work was of much less length than the Pentateuch, inasmuch as it could be read through at one sitting so as to be understood by all; further, we must not omit to notice that out of all the books which Moses wrote, this one book of the second covenant and the song (which latter he wrote afterwards so that all the people might learn it), was the only one which he caused to be religiously guarded and preserved. (67) In the first covenant he had only bound over those who were present, but in the second covenant he bound over all their descendants also (Dent. xxix:14), and therefore ordered this covenant with future ages to be religiously preserved, together with the Song, which was especially addressed to posterity: as, then, we have no proof that Moses wrote any book save this of the covenant, and as he committed no other to the care of posterity; and, lastly, as there are many passages in the Pentateuch which Moses could not have written, it follows that the belief that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch is ungrounded and even irrational. (68) Someone will perhaps ask whether Moses did not also write down other laws when they were first revealed to him – in other words, whether, during the course of forty years, he did not write down any of the laws which he promulgated, save only those few which I have stated to be contained in the book of the first covenant. (69) To this I would answer, that although it seems reasonable to suppose that Moses wrote down the laws at the time when he wished to communicate them to the people, yet we are not warranted to take it as proved, for I have shown above that we must make no assertions in such matters which we do not gather from Scripture, or which do not flow as legitimate consequences from its fundamental principles. (70) We must not accept whatever is reasonably probable. (71) However even reason in this case would not force such a conclusion upon us: for it may be that the assembly of elders wrote down the decrees of Moses and communicated them to the people, and the historian collected them, and duly set them forth in his narrative of the life of Moses. (72) So much for the five books of Moses: it is now time for us to turn to the other sacred writings.

(73) The book of Joshua may be proved not to be an autograph by reasons similar to those we have just employed: for it must be some other than Joshua who testifies that the fame of Joshua was spread over the whole world; that he omitted nothing of what Moses had taught (Josh. vi:27; viii. last verse; xi:15); that he grew old and summoned an assembly of the whole people, and finally that he departed this life. (74) Furthermore, events are related which took place after Joshua’s death. (75) For instance, that the Israelites worshipped God, after his death, so long as there were any old men alive who remembered him; and in chap. xvi:10, we read that “Ephraim and Manasseh did not drive out the Canaanites which dwelt in Gezer, but the Canaanite dwelt in the land of Ephraim unto this day, and was tributary to him.” (76) This is the same statement as that in Judges, chap. i., and the phrase “unto this day” shows that the writer was speaking of ancient times. (77) With these texts we may compare the last verse of chap. xv., concerning the sons of Judah, and also the history of Caleb in the same chap. v:14. (78) Further, the building of an altar beyond Jordan by the two tribes and a half, chap. xxii:10, sqq., seems to have taken place after the death of Joshua, for in the whole narrative his name is never mentioned, but the people alone held council as to waging war, sent out legates, waited for their return, and finally approved of their answer.

(79) Lastly, from chap. x:14, it is clear that the book was written many generations after the death of Joshua, for it bears witness ,there was never any, day like unto, that day, either before or after, that the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man,” &c. (80) If, therefore, Joshua wrote any book at all, it was that which is quoted in the work now before us, chap. x:13.

(81) With regard to the book of Judges, I suppose no rational person persuades himself that it was written by the actual Judges. (82) For the conclusion of the whole history contained in chap. ii. clearly shows that it is all the work – of a single historian. (83) Further, inasmuch as the writer frequently tells us that there was then no king in Israel, it is evident that the book was written after the establishment of the monarchy.

(84) The books of Samuel need not detain us long, inasmuch as the narrative in them is continued long after Samuel’s death; but I should like to draw attention to the fact that it was written many generations after Samuel’s death. (85) For in book i. chap. ix:9, the historian remarks in a, parenthesis, “Beforetime, in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake: Come, and let us go to the seer; for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer.”

(86) Lastly, the books of Kings, as we gather from internal evidence, were compiled from the books of King Solomon (I Kings xi:41), from the chronicles of the kings of Judah (1 Kings xiv:19, 29), and the chronicles of the kings of Israel.

(87) We may, therefore, conclude that all the books we have considered hitherto are compilations, and that the events therein are recorded as having happened in old time. (88) Now, if we turn our attention to the connection and argument of all these books, we shall easily see that they were all written by a single historian, who wished to relate the antiquities of the Jews from their first beginning down to the first destruction of the city. (89) The way in which the several books are connected one with the other is alone enough to show us that they form the narrative of one and the same writer. (90) For as soon as he has related the life of Moses, the historian thus passes on to the story of Joshua: “And it came to pass after that Moses the servant of the Lord was dead, that God spake unto Joshua,” &c., so in the same way, after the death of Joshua was concluded, he passes with identically the same transition and connection to the history of the Judges: “And it came to pass after that Joshua was dead, that the children of Israel sought from God,” &c. (91) To the book of Judges he adds the story of Ruth, as a sort of appendix, in these words: “Now it came to pass in the days that the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.”

(92) The first book of Samuel is introduced with a similar phrase; and so is the second book of Samuel. (93) Then, before the history of David is concluded, the historian passes in the same way to the first book of Kings, and, after David’s death, to the Second book of Kings.

(94) The putting together, and the order of the narratives, show that they are all the work of one man, writing with a create aim; for the historian begins with relating the first origin of the Hebrew nation, and then sets forth in order the times and the occasions in which Moses put forth his laws, and made his predictions. (95) He then proceeds to relate how the Israelites invaded the promised land in accordance with Moses’ prophecy (Deut. vii.); and how, when the land was subdued, they turned their backs on their laws, and thereby incurred many misfortunes (Deut. xxxi:16, 17). (96) He tells how they wished to elect rulers, and how, according as these rulers observed the law, the people flourished or suffered (Deut. xxviii:36); finally, how destruction came upon the nation, even as Moses had foretold. (97) In regard to other matters, which do not serve to confirm the law, the writer either passes over them in silence, or refers the reader to other books for information. (98) All that is set down in the books we have conduces to the sole object of setting forth the words and laws of Moses, and proving them by subsequent events.(99) When we put together these three considerations, namely, the unity of the subject of all the books, the connection between them, and the fact that they are compilations made many generations after the events they relate had taken place, we come to the conclusion, as I have just stated, that they are all the work of a single historian. (100) Who this historian was, it is not so easy to show; but I suspect that he was Ezra, and there are several strong reasons for adopting this hypothesis.

(101) The historian whom we already know to be but one individual brings his history down to the liberation of Jehoiakim, and adds that he himself sat at the king’s table all his life – that is, at the table either of Jehoiakim, or of the son of Nebuchadnezzar, for the sense of the passage is ambiguous: hence it follows that he did not live before the time of Ezra. (102) But Scripture does not testify of any except of Ezra (Ezra vii:10), that he “prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to set it forth, and further that he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses.” (103) Therefore, I can not find anyone, save Ezra, to whom to attribute the sacred books.

(104) Further, from this testimony concerning Ezra, we see that he prepared his heart, not only to seek the law of the Lord, but also to set it forth; and, in Nehemiah viii:8, we read that “they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

(105) As, then, in Deuteronomy, we find not only the book of the law of Moses, or the greater part of it, but also many things inserted for its better explanation, I conjecture that this Deuteronomy is the book of the law of God, written, set forth, and explained by Ezra, which is referred to in the text above quoted. (106) Two examples of the way matters were inserted parenthetically in the text of Deuteronomy, with a view to its fuller explanation, we have already given, in speaking of Aben Ezra’s opinion. (107) Many others are found in the course of the work: for instance, in chap. ii:12: “The Horims dwelt also in Seir beforetime; but the children of Esau succeeded them, when they had destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their stead; as Israel did unto the land of his possession, which the Lord gave unto them.” (108) This explains verses 3 and 4 of the same chapter, where it is stated that Mount Seir, which had come to the children of Esau for a possession, did not fall into their hands uninhabited; but that they invaded it, and turned out and destroyed the Horims, who formerly dwelt therein, even as the children of Israel had done unto the Canaanites after the death of Moses.

(109) So, also, verses 6, 7, 8, 9, of the tenth chapter are inserted parenthetically among the words of Moses. Everyone must see that verse 8, which begins, “At that time the Lord separated the tribe of Levi,” necessarily refers to verse 5, and not to the death of Aaron, which is only mentioned here by Ezra because Moses, in telling of the golden calf worshipped by the people, stated that he had prayed for Aaron.

(110) He then explains that at the time at which Moses spoke, God had chosen for Himself the tribe of Levi in order that He may point out the reason for their election, and for the fact of their not sharing in the inheritance; after this digression, he resumes the thread of Moses’ speech. (111) To these parentheses we must add the preface to the book, and all the passages in which Moses is spoken of in the third person, besides many which we cannot now distinguish, though, doubtless, they would have been plainly recognized by the writer’s contemporaries.

(112) If, I say, we were in possession of the book of the law as Moses wrote it, I do not doubt that we should find a great difference in the words of the precepts, the order in which they are given, and the reasons by which they are supported.

(113) A comparison of the decalogue in Deuteronomy with the decalogue in Exodus, where its history is explicitly set forth, will be sufficient to show us a wide discrepancy in all these three particulars, for the fourth commandment is given not only in a different form, but at much greater length, while the reason for its observance differs wholly from that stated in Exodus. (114) Again, the order in which the tenth commandment is explained differs in the two versions. (115) I think that the differences here as elsewhere are the work of Ezra, who explained the law of God to his contemporaries, and who wrote this book of the law of God, before anything else; this I gather from the fact that it contains the laws of the country, of which the people stood in most need, and also because it is not joined to the book which precedes it by any connecting phrase, but begins with the independent statement, “these are the words of Moses.” (116) After this task was completed, I think Ezra set himself to give a complete account of the history of the Hebrew nation from the creation of the world to the entire destruction of the city, and in this account he inserted the book of Deuteronomy, and, possibly, he called the first five books by the name of Moses, because his life is chiefly contained therein, and forms their principal subject; for the same reason he called the sixth Joshua, the seventh Judges, the eighth Ruth, the ninth, and perhaps the tenth, Samuel, and, lastly, the eleventh and twelfth Kings. (117) Whether Ezra put the finishing touches to this work and finished it as he intended, we will discuss in the next chapter.


(1) How greatly the inquiry we have just made concerning the real writer of the twelve books aids us in attaining a complete understanding of them, may be easily gathered solely from the passages which we have adduced in confirmation of our opinion, and which would be most obscure without it. (2) But besides the question of the writer, there are other points to notice which common superstition forbids the multitude to apprehend. (3) Of these the chief is, that Ezra (whom I will take to be the author of the aforesaid books until some more likely person be suggested) did not put the finishing touches to the narrative contained therein, but merely collected the histories from various writers, and sometimes simply set them down, leaving their examination and arrangement to posterity.

(4) The cause (if it were not untimely death) which prevented him from completing his work in all its portions, I cannot conjecture, but the fact remains most clear, although we have lost the writings of the ancient Hebrew historians, and can only judge from the few fragments which are still extant. (5) For the history of Hezekiah (2 Kings xviii:17), as written in the vision of Isaiah, is related as it is found in the chronicles of the kings of Judah. (6) We read the same story, told with few exceptions, [Endnote 11], in the same words, in the book of Isaiah which was contained in the chronicles of the kings of Judah (2 Chron. xxxii:32). (7) From this we must conclude that there were various versions of this narrative of Isaiah’s, unless, indeed, anyone would dream that in this, too, there lurks a mystery. (8) Further, the last chapter of 2 Kings 27-30 is repeated in the last chapter of Jeremiah, v.31-34.

(9) Again, we find 2 Sam. vii. repeated in I Chron. xvii., but the expressions in the two passages are so curiously varied [Endnote 12], that we can very easily see that these two chapters were taken from two different versions of the history of Nathan.

(10) Lastly, the genealogy of the kings of Idumaea contained in Genesis xxxvi:31, is repeated in the same words in 1 Chron. i., though we know that the author of the latter work took his materials from other historians, not from the twelve books we have ascribed to Ezra. (10) We may therefore be sure that if we still possessed the writings of the historians, the matter would be made clear; however, as we have lost them, we can only examine the writings still extant, and from their order and connection, their various repetitions, and, lastly, the contradictions in dates which they contain, judge of the rest.

(11) These, then, or the chief of them, we will now go through. (12) First, in the story of Judah and Tamar (Gen. xxxviii.) the historian thus begins: “And it came to pass at that time that Judah went down from his brethren.” (13) This time cannot refer to what immediately precedes [Endnote 13], but must necessarily refer to something else, for from the time when Joseph was

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