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Baruch Spinoza on Bible Criticism - Dictionary of Arguments

Gadamer I 184
Bible Criticism/Bible/Hermeneutics/Spinoza/Gadamer: The actual problem of understanding obviously breaks open when the question of reflection arises in the effort to understand the content: How does he come to his opinion? For it is clear that such a question poses a strangeness of quite different
species and ultimately means a renunciation of common meaning.
Spinoza's Bible criticism is a good example of this (and at the same time one of the earliest documents). In Chapter 7 of the "Tractatus theologico-politicus"(1), Spinoza develops his method of interpreting Sacred Scripture on the basis of the interpretation of nature. From the historical data one must infer the meaning (mens) of the authors - to the extent that in these books things are told (history of miracles as well as revelations) that cannot be deduced from the principles known to natural reason. Even in these things, which are in themselves incomprehensible (imperceptibiles), everything that matters can be understood, notwithstanding the fact that the Scripture unquestionably has a moral sense as a whole, if we only recognize the spirit of the author "historically", that is to say, by overcoming our prejudices, we can think of no other things than those that the author could have in mind.
Gadamer I 185
Euclid would not be interpreted by anyone as to mean that the life, studies and customs (vita, studium et mores) of the author were to be taken into account, and this also applied to the spirit of the Bible in moral matters (circa documenta moralia). Just because there are incomprehensible things (res imperceptibiles) in the narratives of the Bible, their understanding is dependent on the fact that we determine the understanding of the author's meaning from the whole of his writing (ut mentem auctoris percipiamus). And there it indeed does not matter whether what is meant corresponds to our insight, for we only want to recognize the meaning of the sentences (the sensus orationum), but not their truth (veritas). This requires the elimination of all bias, even the bias caused by our reason (all the more so, of course, by our prejudices).(§ 17).
Gadamer I 185
Gadamer: The "naturalness" of the understanding of the Bible is thus based on the fact that the
insightful (German: "Einsichtige") can be seen and the undiscerning (German: "Uneinsichtige") becomes "historically" understandable.


1. Spinoza: Theologisch-politische Abhandlung. Berlin 1870

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Höffe I 238
Bible Criticism/Spinoza/Höffe: Spinoza is also an “enlightener” regarding the critical analysis of the Holy Scriptures.
Historical-critical biblical scholarship was already well advanced at that time, so that Spinoza's method, compared with Calvin's, for example, is not new. What is new, perhaps even revolutionarily new, is the political mandate given to the hermeneutics of the Bible: It must submit to the political goal of peace, which in turn must be philosophised in the service of freedom. To this end, Spinoza undermines the authority of the learned theologians and declares every person free to interpret Sacred Scripture for himself - provided the person fulfils a political condition: that his interpretation strengthens obedience to (secular) law. For otherwise neither insurrections nor civil wars can be cut short.
VsRevelation: To the extent that Spinoza engages with the content of the Holy Scriptures, it takes away the rank of a timeless revelation from their basic idea. Rather, the scripture consists primarily of pictorial speeches that are directed at the imagination and the capacity of the contemporaries of the time. Insofar as the texts are merely pictorial speeches, a further-reaching hermeneutics, a second-level exegesis, seeks out their hidden subtext, the rational core. According to Spinoza, it is moral and only moral: the commandments of Scripture are meant to guide to righteousness, namely to justice and charity.
Religion/Spinoza: Here, religion appears as a means of moral cultivation of people, which results in a perfecting tolerance: Whoever, like Spinoza, commits religion to the moral cultivation of man can remain faithful to his or her own religion and denomination, while at the same time recognizing those of others, for their differences have become irrelevant.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Spinoza I
B. Spinoza
Spinoza: Complete Works Indianapolis 2002

Gadamer I
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik 7. durchgesehene Auflage Tübingen 1960/2010

Gadamer II
H. G. Gadamer
The Relevance of the Beautiful, London 1986
German Edition:
Die Aktualität des Schönen: Kunst als Spiel, Symbol und Fest Stuttgart 1977

Höffe I
Otfried Höffe
Geschichte des politischen Denkens München 2016


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-23
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