Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Theological-Political Treatise)

Baruch Spinoza


[47] Now all that remains is to reply to certain arguments by which they want to persuade themselves that the choice of the Hebrews was not for a time, and in relation only to their state, but eternal. For they say: [i] we see that after the loss of their state the Jews have survived for many years, though they were scattered everywhere and separated from all the nations. This has not happened to any other Nation. And [ii] we see that in many places the Sacred Texts seem to teach that God chose the Jews unto himself to eternity. So even if they have lost their state, they remain God’s chosen people.

[48] There are two principal passages which they think teach this eternal choice most clearly: (1) Jeremiah 31:36, where the Prophet testifies that the seed of Israel will remain God’s nation to eternity, evidently comparing them with the fixed order of the heavens and of nature; and (2) Ezekiel 20:32[–44], where [the Prophet] seems to claim that even though the Jews deliberately choose to abandon the worship of God, he will still gather them from all the regions into which they have been dispersed, lead them to the wilderness of the peoples (as he led their ancestors to the wilderness of Egypt), and at last, after he has weeded out the rebels and the transgressors from among them, lead them from there to the mount of his holiness, where the whole house of Israel will worship him.

[49] It’s common—especially among the Pharisees—to bring up other passages besides these. But I think I will satisfy everyone if I reply to these two. This I will do very easily, once I have shown from Scripture itself that God did not choose the Hebrews to eternity, but only on the same condition on which he previously chose the Canaanites. They too, as we have shown above, had priests who worshipped God scrupulously. But God still rejected them on account of their extravagant living, their negligence, and their bad worship. [50] For in Leviticus 18:27–28 Moses warns the Israelites that they should not be defiled by abominations, as the Canaanites were, lest the earth vomit them forth, as it vomited forth the nations which inhabited those places. And Deuteronomy 8:19–20 threatens them most explicitly with total ruin. For it says העדותי בכם היום כי אבד תאבדון כגוים אשר יהוה מאביד מפניכם כן תאבדון I declare to you this day, that you will perish without exception; like the nations which God made perish from your presence, so you will perish. Similarly we find other passages in the Law which indicate explicitly that God did not choose the Hebrew nation unconditionally, nor to eternity.

[51] So if the Prophets predicted a new and eternal covenant of the knowledge, love, and grace of God, it is easily proven that this was promised only to the pious. For in the chapter of Ezekiel we have just cited, it is said explicitly that God will separate the rebels and transgressors from them, and in Zephaniah 3:12–13,1 that God will remove the proud from the midst [of the people of Israel] and will let the poor survive. Because this choice concerns true virtue, we must not think it was promised only to the pious among the Jews, the others being excluded. Rather we must believe that the true gentile Prophets—whom we have shown that all nations had—promised the same thing to the faithful of their Nations, and comforted them with it. [52] So this eternal covenant of the knowledge and love of God is universal.

[The universality of the covenant] is also established with the utmost clarity by Zephaniah 3:10–11. So we must admit no difference in this matter between the Jews and the nations, nor is there any other election peculiar to them, beyond what we have already shown.

Granted, when the Prophets speak about this election, which concerns only true virtue, they mix in many things about sacrifices and other ceremonies, and about the rebuilding of the Temple and the City. But that’s because, as was the custom in prophecy, and its nature, they wanted to explain spiritual matters in figurative expressions. That way they would at the same time indicate to the Jews, whose Prophets they were, that the restoration of the state and of the Temple was to be expected in the time of Cyrus. [53] So today the Jews have absolutely nothing which they could attribute to themselves beyond all the Nations.

It’s true also that they have survived for many years, in spite of being scattered and without a state. But that is nothing to wonder at, after they separated themselves so from all the nations that they have drawn the hatred of all men against themselves, not only by having external customs contrary to the customs of the other nations, but also by the sign of circumcision, which they maintain most scrupulously.

Moreover, experience has already taught that the hatred of the Nations has done much to preserve them. [54] Previously, when the King of Spain compelled the Jews either to accept the Religion of the Kingdom or to go into exile, a great many Jews accepted the Religion of the priests. But because all the privileges of native Spaniards were granted to those who accepted that religion, and they were thought worthy of all honors, they immediately mixed themselves with the Spaniards. As a result, after a little while no traces of them remained, nor any memory. Just the opposite happened to those whom the King of Portugal compelled to accept the religion of his state. Although they converted to that religion, they always lived separated from everyone else, presumably because he declared them unworthy of all honors.

[55] I think the sign of circumcision is also so important in this matter that I am persuaded that this one thing will preserve this Nation to eternity. Indeed, if the foundations of their religion did not make their hearts unmanly, I would absolutely believe that some day, given the opportunity, they would set up their state again, and God would choose them anew. That’s how changeable human affairs are.

[56] We have another excellent example of [the importance of a distinguishing mark in preserving national identity] in the Chinese. They have most scrupulously kept a kind of tail on their head, by which they separate themselves from everyone else. Thus separated, they have preserved themselves for so many thousands of years that they far surpass all other nations in antiquity. They have not always remained in charge of their state; but they have regained it when it was lost. Doubtless they will regain it again, when the hearts of the Tartars begin to grow feeble from the negligence and extravagant living of wealth.

[57] Finally, if anyone wants to maintain, for this or some other reason, that God has chosen the Jews to eternity, I won’t resist that, provided he maintains that—whether this election is for a time or eternal—insofar as it is peculiar to the Jews, it concerns only their state and the advantages of the body. This is the only thing which can distinguish one Nation from another. In intellect and true virtue no nation is distinguished from any other; so in these matters God has not chosen one in preference to the others.

Translated by
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Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza, one of the world’s foremost philosophers, was born in Amsterdam to parents of Portuguese New Christian origin and educated in the Talmud Torah of the Portuguese Sephardic community. He read extensively, including Hobbes and Descartes. In 1656, the Jewish community excommunicated Spinoza for “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds,” likely related to his denial of God’s transcendence, the divine origin of the Hebrew Bible, and immortality of the soul. In contrast to Uriel da Costa, Spinoza sought neither to rejoin the Jewish community nor to convert to Christianity; some consider him Europe’s first intentionally secular Jew. His biblical source criticism and arguments for religious toleration are articulated in his major works Theological-Political Treatise (1670) and Ethics (1677).


Words in brackets appear in the original translation.

As the verses are normally divided now, the reference should be to verses 11–12.


Baruch Spinoza, “The Theological-Political Treatise,” from The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 2, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), pp. 122–25. Copyright © 1985 by Princeton University Press. Republished with permission of Princeton University Press, permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 5.

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