Baruch Spinoza, the scion of Portuguese Jews expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, was raised in that most progressive country of the 17th century Holland. A brilliant thinker born in 1632, he outgrew the strictures of his Orthodox Jewish community and inspired by the atmosphere of freedom in Holland began to write about the Bible. Like John Spong he was way ahead of his contemporaries and paid the price for his brilliance. By the time was 23 a cherem (a writ of excommunication) was presented to him by synagogue leaders.
What Spinoza wrote of course is common coin today and accepted by all exegetes. in his Tractatus Theoloigico-Politicus (or simply the Tractatus 1670) he pointed out that the Bible is full of contradictions, that the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) did not come from the pen of God, Moses or any single author. These books were written over a period of time by several authors, that the Jews were not God’s chosen people, the miracles were suspect, the prophets had no ability to see into the future.
An early child of the Enlightenment threw a powerful challenge to the established churches which he maintained kept people in darkness and intellectual bondage. He went after all concepts of theocracy. The state was not the representative of a divine order. he insisted on the freedom of conscience and was naive enough, even in the relatively enlightened Holland that this would protect him from the ferocious attacks which quickly came. His biblical criticism of course veered into political theory. Citizens not theocrats must own the political authority.
The firestorm which erupted was unprecedented. It can only be compared to the reaction to Darwin’s Origin of species,(1859) which still enrages fundamentalists..
Spinoza published his work anonymously and placed its release in a foreign city Hamburg.
Dutch theologians were first off the mark with outrage—.In July 1670 one synod described the Tractatus as “a most vile and sacrilegious book the world has ever seen”. Others wanted “to extirpate this corrosive gangrene.” Word leaked out that Spinoza indeed was the author. all over Europe critics vaulted over each other condemning the book. The book went through several printings and was widely distributed albeit under the counter.
It is important to note that Spinoza was no atheist. ”There is a Supreme Being who loves justice and charity and whom all must obey in order to be saved.” Sounds pretty traditional.
He barely escaped with his life. Baruch Spinoza died at age 44 probably from silicosis, the result of small glass particles lodging in his lungs. You see Spinoza to earn his living was a master lenscrafter.
Compared to John Spong ,Spinoza was a revolutionary, an innocent who believed that truth would triumph. In biblical studies it ultimately did, yet Bishop Spong must travel with a bodyguard.