Prophecy pp 587-640 | Cite as


  • Howard Kreisel
Part of the Amsterdam Studies in Jewish Thought book series (ASJT, volume 8)


It is true that often a preoccupation with the details leads to the “story” getting lost. As is the case in every area, however, there is another way of looking at things, a different perspective. In trying to get to the “gist” of the story, might we not miss out on the details in which the story really lies? I readily confess that as a reader I find much more interesting those works that get to the “essence” of the matter in a few short sentences, reduce the entire Torah to a single rule (or while “standing on one foot” as the rabbinic saying goes, the Latin regula apparently becoming the Hebrew regel in an ingenious play on words). Reading these works, I am left with a sense of knowing something without being burdened by having to learn it. Did not Aristotle teach us that knowledge consists of knowing the incorporeal “essence” of a thing, and not the numerous sensory data that characterize its appearance. Of course someone has to do the“dirty work” and drudge through all the data in an effort to make sense out of it and get to the “essence”. I leave it to each of the scholars in his/her respective field to do so. But why must the author burden the readers with all the minute details? Let each just present major “findings”, relegating all the details, if they must be presented, to the notes in small print. Those who care about the details should turn to the primary texts themselves. This is the preferable path in any event.


Theoretical Knowledge Philosophic Tradition Active Intellect Theoretical Truth Biblical Literature 
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  1. 1.
    There is an immense bibliography on the philosophy of Spinoza and the history of its reception. For a recent excellent collection of essays devoted to different aspects of his thought see David Garrett ed., The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1996). The classic, though controversial, study of Spinoza’s views on religion and politics is the 1930 work of Leo Strauss in German, which was translated by E. M. Sinclair, Spinoza’ s Critique of Religion (New York: Schocken Books, 1965). I find myself in basic agreement with Strauss’s basic approach, though not on many of the particulars. For a more recent study dealing with Spinoza’s political-theological thought see in particular Steven B. Smith, Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity (New Haven: Yale University, 1997). See also Yirmiyahu Yovel, Spinoza and Other Heretics, 2 volumes (Princeton: Princeton University, 1989).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    All references to this treatise in the chapter are to the translation of Samuel Shirley (with an introduction by Brad S. Gregory) published by E.J. Brill (1991). Latin citations are taken from Carl Gebhardt’s edition in: Spinoza Opera, III (Heidelberg: Carl Winters Universitats, 1925).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a discussion of this issue see Seymour Feldman, “Spinoza”, in: Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman eds., History of Jewish Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1996): 612–635. Many scholars have devoted attention to Spinoza’s indebtedness to Jewish philosophical sources in the writing of both Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and the Ethics. For a good discussion of much of this research, together with an insightful treatment of Maimonides’ specific influence on Spinoza’s thought, see Warren Z. Harvey, “A Portrait of Spinoza as a Maimonidean”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 19 (1981): 151–172; see also Shlomo Pines, “Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and the Jewish Philosophical Tradition”, in: I. Twersky and B. Septimus eds., Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1987): 499–521 [repr. in his Studies in the History of Jewish Thought, W.Z. Harvey and M. Idel eds. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1997): 712–734].Google Scholar
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    See the section, “Prophecy in the View of Halevi’s ‘Philosopher’“, in chapter 2, above, and my discussion of Guide 2.38 in chapter 3.Google Scholar
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    Ethics 5: Proposition 25 — Proposition 38. The translation used is that of Edwin Curley, The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 1 (Princeton: Princeton University, 1985): 608-614.Google Scholar
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    See his Dialoghi Di Amore. This work was translated into English by F. Friedeberg-Seeley and Jean Barnes, The Philosophy of Love (London: Soncino Press, 1937).Google Scholar
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    For a study of these propositions of the Ethics with an eye to their Jewish sources see in particular Harry A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1934): 289–325.Google Scholar
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    Wolfson devoted The Philosophy of Spinoza to an analysis of the Ethics on the basis of the sources utilized by Spinoza. Particular attention was paid to the Jewish philosophic sources. Wolfson singles out Maimonides, who together with Aristotle and Descartes, “can be said to have had a dominant influence upon the philosophic training of Spinoza and to have guided him in the formation of his own philosophy (p. 19)”. Most treatments of the subject, however, give pride of place to Descartes. See, for example, Edwin Curley, Behind the Geometrical Method (Princeton: Princeton University, 1988); Alan Donagan Spinoza (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1988). In addition to the attempts to trace the influence of Jewish philosophical sources on Spinoza’s thought, there were those who looked to kabbalistic literature. For a discussion of some of the early “kabbalistic” interpretations of Spinoza and their historical validity, see Richard Popkin, “Spinoza, Neoplatonic Kabbalist?” in: Lenn Goodman ed., Neoplatonism in Jewish Thought (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992): 387–409.Google Scholar
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    There are a number of studies dealing aspects of Spinoza’s approach to prophecy; see, for example, Dov Schwartz, “On the Conceptions of Prophecy of R. Isaac Polcar, R. Solomon Alconstantin and Spinoza [Heb.]”, Asufot, 4 (1990): 57–72; Michael A. Rosenthal, “Why Spinoza Chose the Hebrews; The Exemplary Function of Prophecy in the Theological Political Treatise”, History of Political Thought, 18 (1997): 207-41.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of the primary sources for Tractatus Theologico-Politicus see Brad S. Gregory’s introduction to Shirley’s translation; see also Edwin Curley, “Kissinger, Spinoza, and Genghis Khan”, in: The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, 315–341. Curley stresses Machiavelli’s crucial influence on Spinoza’s political theory in addition to that of Hobbes. Many have pointed to the influence of a number of thinkers from a Marrano background, most notably La Pcyrère, on Spinosa’s treatise, particularly his biblical scholarship; see Richard H. Popkin, Isaac La Peyrère (1596–1676): His Life, Work and Influence (Leiden: Brill, 1987).Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    The most famous proponent of this approach is undoubtedly Leo Srauss; see his Spinosa’s Critique of Religion. Strauss tended to read a number of classics in political philosophy and in Jewish philosophy in this manner. See, in particular, his Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1952).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Preface, p. 56.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    For a summary of the early reception of the treatise see Gregory’s introduction to Shirley’s translation, pp. 27–32.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    See Smith, Spinoza, Liberalism, and the Question of Jewish Identity, 38–44.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    See Gregory’s introduction, p. 25. It is strange nonetheless to think of the treatise as a “defense”, given the reaction to it.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    See Kuzari 1.2–3.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Chapter 19, 280–290.Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    Preface, 53.Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    For Alfarabi’ s app roach see chapter 2 (“Prophecy on the View of Halevi’s ‘Philosopher’”) and chapter 3 (“Introduction to Pereq Heleq”, and my discussion of Guide 2.36-38).Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    See chapter 4 for my discussion of Averroes’ Epitome of Parva Naturalia.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    See Baba Batra 12b: “R. Yoh an an said: From the day that the Temple was destroyed prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to fools and children”. Cf. Aristotle, De Divinatione 2.464a. See also Halevi, Kuzari 1.4. The Khazar king critiques the view of the philosophers since they do not attain prophecy despite their striving, while common people receive it.Google Scholar
  22. 25.
    Baba Batra 12 a. In this discussion, as opposed to the view cited in the previous note, the sages are said to possess also prophecy.Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 59.Google Scholar
  24. 27.
    See chap. 3, “Mishneh Torah;” “Prophecy in the First Part of the Guide;” and the discussion of Guide 2.33-35.Google Scholar
  25. 28.
    See my discussion of Guide 2.38 in chapter 3.Google Scholar
  26. 29.
    See chapter 3, note 190.Google Scholar
  27. 30.
    See above, introduction.Google Scholar
  28. 31.
    See chapter 4, “Prophecy in Gersonides’ Bible Commentaries”.Google Scholar
  29. 32.
    Guide 3.27.Google Scholar
  30. 33.
    Ibid. 2.39–40; 3.27Google Scholar
  31. 34.
    Ibid. 3.27; see my discussion in chapter 3.Google Scholar
  32. 35.
    Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 104–105.Google Scholar
  33. 36.
    See my Maimonides’ Political Thought, 225–247.Google Scholar
  34. 37.
    This point is made explicit by Maimonides in his Introduction to Pereq Heleq.Google Scholar
  35. 38.
    See Guide 2.25. This statement already aroused the ire of some of Maimonides’ e arly critics.Google Scholar
  36. 39.
    See my Maimonides’ Political Thought, 258–263.Google Scholar
  37. 40.
    For a comparison between the two treatments see Warren Z. Harvey, “Maimonides and Spinoza on the Knowledge of Good and Evil [H eb.]”, Iyyun 28 (1979): 167–185.Google Scholar
  38. 41.
    Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 113–14. The example of lust is a proble matic one since the Torah explicitly for bids desire, at least in the case of adultery. See Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18. Moreover the medieval Jewish commentators in terpreted the prohibition accordingly. It is difficult to see on what Spinoza based his view.Google Scholar
  39. 42.
    Shades of Maimonides colorth is argument too. Se e Maimonides’ approach to the reason for sacrifices in Guide 3.32.Google Scholar
  40. 43.
    See, in particular, Steven S. Schwarschild, “Do Noachites Have to Believe in Revelation?“ JQR, 52 (1962): 297–365 [repr. in his Pursuit of the Ideal, M. Kellner ed. (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990): 29–60]; For some more recent studies of this passage see the references in my Maimonides’ Political Thought, p. 290 n.24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 46.
    Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 161–172. Spinoza see s in the medieval Jewishs commentator, Abraham Ibn Ezra, a forerunner of the view that Moses was not the sole author of the Torah. He elucidates upon Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Deuteronomy 1:2 in support of this stance. It should be noted that while Ibn Ezra does not mention Ezra explicitly as being responsible for the later recension of the Torah, at least one of the medieval supercommentaries on Ibn Ezra makes this claim. See Hanna Kasher, “Ibn Kaspi’s Commentary to the “Secrets of Ibn’ Ezra” [Heb.]”, in: Moshe Hallamish ed., ’Alei Shefer: Studies in the Literature of Jewish Thought (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 1990): 95, 108. The view that Ezra was the author of the Torah as we possess it is discussed and attacked by the 12th century Jewish philosophy Abraham Ibn Daud in his Exalted Faith, S. Weil ed. (Frankfurt, 1852): 78-9. Ibn Daud in all probability derived this view from a Moslem source.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Howard Kreisel
    • 1
  1. 1.Ben Gurion University of the NegevBeer ShevaIsrael

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