Spinoza and Judaism in the French Context: The Case of Milner's Le Sage Trompeur

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Jean-Claude Milner’s Le sage trompeur (2013), a controversial recent piece of French Spinoza literature, remains regrettably understudied in the English-speaking world. Adopting Leo Strauss’ esoteric reading method, Milner alleges that Spinoza dissimulates his genuine analysis of the causes of the persecution and survival of the Jewish people within a brief “manifesto” found at the end of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP), Chapter 3. According to Milner, Spinoza holds that the Jewish people themselves are responsible for the hatred of the Jewish people, and that the engine of their longevity is the hatred they engender. Additionally, claims Milner, Spinoza covertly insinuates that the solution to this persistent state of hatred consists in the mass apostasy of the Jewish people under the leadership of a Sabbatai Zevi-like figure. This article presents the Milner–Spinoza controversy to the English-speaking public along with the larger context of French-language scholarship on Spinoza’s relation to Judaism. While refuting Milner’s reading of Spinoza, I simultaneously clarify relevant elements of Spinoza’s discussions of Judaism in the TTP, such as Spinoza’s examination of Jewish identity and the nature of divine election, Spinoza’s understanding of the causes of national hatred, and Spinoza’s appeals to Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, and Turkish political history.
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