chapter  12
19 Pages

Benedictus Pantheissimus


Among the great, dead philosophers of the early modern period, Baruch Spinoza, a Dutch Jew of the seventeenth century, is perhaps the most deeply fascinating but mysterious and enigmatic of them all. Although his philosophical thought is notoriously diffi cult to understand, and some of his ideas impenetrable even to specialists, most of his contemporaries felt they had a pretty good idea of what he was saying. Even when they did not quite get the details right, it was nonetheless clear to them, and it is clear to us today, that he was the most radical thinker of his time. Not coincidentally, he was also the most despised. He was widely attacked, by both secular and ecclesiastic authorities, for his ‘blasphemous’ and ‘heretical’ opinions on God, the Bible and religion. His harsh (and, as yet, unexplained) excommunication from the Amsterdam Portuguese-Jewish communitythe most vitriolic herem ever issued by that congregation-represented only the beginning of a long period of vilifi cation. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the term ‘Spinozist’—like the term ‘communist’ in the United States in the 1950s-was a convenient and effective label for casting suspicion upon one’s intellectual opponents.