chapter  2
19 Pages

THE COMING OF MODERN TIMES

The memory of the medieval and early modern periods was not a happy one for the philosophes, the tone-setting intellectuals of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period that has been called the Enlightenment. The term was chosen to emphasize its difference from the medieval ‘dark ages.’ Dennis Diderot, a prominent philosophe of the mid-eighteenth century, spoke for many others when he wrote that ‘never has any religion been so fecund in crime as Christianity. ... The abominable cross has caused blood to flow on every side.’ One might assume that such a judgement would be ‘good for the Jews,’ and in some regards it was. But there was much more to the story; Enlightened ideals, like those of Protestantism, represented a para­ doxical mix of good and bad prospects for the Jews.