Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.

Kindle Price: £10.44

Save £3.51 (25%)

includes VAT*
* Unlike print books, digital books are subject to VAT.

These promotions will be applied to this item:

Some promotions may be combined; others are not eligible to be combined with other offers. For details, please see the Terms & Conditions associated with these promotions.

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

Deliver to your Kindle or other device

A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age by [Nadler, Steven]
Kindle App Ad

A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age Kindle Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

See all formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price
New from Used from
Kindle Edition
"Please retry"
£10.44

Kindle Books from 99p
Load up your Kindle library before your next holiday -- browse over 500 Kindle Books on sale from 99p until 31 August, 2016. Shop now

Product Description

Review

Steven Nadler's new study of the "Treatise, A Book Forged in Hell", succeeds. . . . While his tasks are primarily expository and contextual, Nadler, who is the author of the standard biography of Spinoza, puts forward a substantive thesis as well. . . . Guided by this set of claims, Nadler takes us through the "Treatise" in a detailed but seamless account of Spinoza's arguments and aims. One measure of his integrity, indeed, is that while endorsing the common portrayal of Spinoza as a founder of modern secularism, Nadler is sensitive to some of the ways in which Spinoza is "not" to be taken as the harbinger of the secular mindset. In fact, "A Book Forged in Hell" raises the important question of how appropriate it is to view Spinoza as a philosophical founder of contemporary secularism and especially of contemporary liberalism. It also raises the question of whether Spinoza should be understood as a Jewish thinker, if so, to what extent.--Zachary Micah Gartenberg "Jewish Review of Books "

Steven Nadler, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has written a thoroughly engaging study of a book which, not only controversial in its day, may be said to have moved Biblical studies into a modern terminology and thrust. It will be a welcome addition to seminary and university libraries.--Morton J. Merowitz "Association of Jewish Library Reviews "

Honorable Mention for the 2011 PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers


Honorable Mention for the 2011 PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers


"In this clearly written and accessible book, Nadler offers up a historical and philosophical analysis of Spinoza's "Theological-Political Treatise." . . . Each chapter not only focuses on sections of the "Treatise" but also explains the historical context of the "Treatise" and why many saw it as such a dangerous and corrupting book. . . . [Nadler] has definitely succeeded in writing an extremely rewarding and engaging book."--"Library Journal" (starred review)

"[T]his is a groundbreaking analysis of an incendiary text."--"Booklist"

"Steven Nadler's new study of the "Treatise, A Book Forged in Hell," succeeds. . . . While his tasks are primarily expository and contextual, Nadler, who is the author of the standard biography of Spinoza, puts forward a substantive thesis as well. . . . Guided by this set of claims, Nadler takes us through the "Treatise" in a detailed but seamless account of Spinoza's arguments and aims. One measure of his integrity, indeed, is that while endorsing the common portrayal of Spinoza as a founder of modern secularism, Nadler is sensitive to some of the ways in which Spinoza is "not" to be taken as the harbinger of the secular mindset. In fact, "A Book Forged in Hell" raises the important question of how appropriate it is to view Spinoza as a philosophical founder of contemporary secularism and especially of contemporary liberalism. It also raises the question of whether Spinoza should be understood as a Jewish thinker, if so, to what extent."--Zachary Micah Gartenberg, "Jewish Review of Books"

"Steven Nadler has written a delightfully lucid and philosophically thorough account of the "Treatise" that helps to explain how and why this singular text became the object of such opprobrium and why we should see its appearance as the 'the birth of the secular age.'. . . What makes Nadler's so welcome a contribution is the care and the clarity of his philosophical exposition, and his restraint when tracing the wider implications of Spinoza's work."--Peter Gordon, TNR.com's "The Book"

"Without comparison the best among the available books on Spinoza in this category."--"British Journal for the History of Philosophy"

"Nadler shows, for a general audience, why Spinoza's "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus" evoked such opposition from contemporary religious and political readers. Nadler places Spinoza and his book in their historical context, explains the issues that were at stake, and discusses the book's subsequent influence. Persons interested in the history of political liberalism, modern Judaism, biblical interpretation, and early modern philosophy will welcome this excellent book."--"Choice"

""A Book Forged in Hell" is . . . without comparison the best among the available books on Spinoza in this category."--"British Journal for the History of Philosophy"

"Steven Nadler, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has written a thoroughly engaging study of a book which, not only controversial in its day, may be said to have moved Biblical studies into a modern terminology and thrust. It will be a welcome addition to seminary and university libraries."--Morton J. Merowitz, "Association of Jewish Library Reviews"

"[A]ccomplished. . . . Few have accepted Spinoza's equation of God with Nature or his determinism. Yet his deconstruction of the Bible remains a towering achievement, a triumph of reason over ecclesiastical obfuscation. Nadler is to be applauded for making this achievement so accessible. God knows, the world still needs such enlightenment."--"Jewish Chronicle"

"Philosophy professor Steven Nadler tells the story of the book that scandalized early modern Europe--and laid the groundwork for modern republican, anticlerical, and anti-sectarian movements--in his readable "A Book Forged in Hell.""--"Reason"

"[L]ucid. . . . Nadler does an excellent job of summarizing Spinoza's sometimes convoluted arguments."--"Weekly Standard"

"Nadler's book is a biography of the treatise and very much a page turner, a philosophical and political thriller, which demands to be bought, read and shared."--Derek Wall, "Morning Star Online"

"In this highly readable study, Steven Nadler persuasively shows that this scandalous work of modern philosophy deserves far more attention than it has actually received from scholars."--Grant Havers, "European Legacy"

From the Back Cover

"Steven Nadler's knowledge of the many influences acting on Spinoza is profound. He is as sensitive to Spinoza's reactions to Descartes and Maimonides as to the philosopher's fears of the conservative religious forces that were threatening the Dutch Republic of his day. The wide context that Nadler provides makes for a reading of Spinoza's treatise which is unfailingly rich, nuanced, and illuminating."--Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity"

"If there is a single theme that runs throughout Spinoza's writings, Steven Nadler says, 'it is the liberation from bondage, whether psychological, political, or religious.' Spinoza's importance as a philosopher--maybe as the philosopher of modernity--hinges on that. This Amsterdam Jew was one of the grandest and boldest mold-breakers of all time. Nadler gives us a clean, crisp, indispensible account of what made Spinoza's Treatise so revolutionary."--Russell Shorto, author of "Descartes' Bones"

""A Book Forged in Hell" is more than just an excellent and highly readable introduction to one of the most important texts of philosophy and political thought. Steven Nadler provides an eloquent portrait of Spinoza's treatise, placing it firmly in its historical, religious, political, and philosophical setting."--Jonathan Israel, author of "A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy"

"This is an excellent book. Steven Nadler's wonderfully elegant and fluid writing style makes difficult ideas accessible and exciting without watering them down. A prime virtue of the book is that it provides just enough biographical and historical background to make the philosophy come alive and to reveal what a dramatic work Spinoza's treatise is."--Michael Della Rocca, Yale University


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1305 KB
  • Print Length: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (19 Sept. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005DXOQPY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #415,514 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
  •  Would you like to give feedback on images or tell us about a lower price?


Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars
5 star
3
4 star
0
3 star
0
2 star
0
1 star
0
See all 3 customer reviews
Share your thoughts with other customers

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
About 25 years ago, I was engaged in serious graduate study in philosophy and preparing to write a dissertation on Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise (1670). I have had a lifelong interest in Spinoza and was interested in the Treatise because of the questions of how to interpret texts it raises in terms of its treatment of the Bible. Also, at the time, the Treatise was receiving far less attention than Spinoza's most famous work, the Ethics. I never completed the dissertation but retained my interest in Spinoza and the Treatise.

The Treatise has received substantial attention since the time I was closely engaged with it. Historian Jonathan Israel has writtent a trilogy of lengthy, difficult books showing the great influence of Spinoza and the Treatise on Enlightenment thought and on the French and American Revolutions. Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790 Steven Nadler's new study, "A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age" (2011) is much more accessible than Israel's study and has a different focus.
Read more ›
2 Comments 35 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are looking for an introduction to the great philosopher,
this very readable book will do. For, although the theme is the
"Theological-political treatise", the philosophical framework given (re: Spinoza
masterpiece, "Ethics" in particular), in addition to the historical one,
is very clearly spelled out.
Comment 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An excellent book and well researched by the author.
Comment 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars 73 reviews
219 of 224 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise 7 Oct. 2011
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
About 25 years ago, I was engaged in serious graduate study in philosophy and preparing to write a dissertation on Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise (1670). I have had a lifelong interest in Spinoza and was interested in the Treatise because of the questions of how to interpret texts it raises in terms of its treatment of the Bible. Also, at the time, the Treatise was receiving far less attention than Spinoza's most famous work, the Ethics. I never completed the dissertation but retained my interest in Spinoza and the Treatise.

The Treatise has received substantial attention since the time I was closely engaged with it. Historian Jonathan Israel has writtent a trilogy of lengthy, difficult books showing the great influence of Spinoza and the Treatise on Enlightenment thought and on the French and American Revolutions. Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750,Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790. Steven Nadler's new study, "A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age" (2011) is much more accessible than Israel's study and has a different focus. Nadler's aim is to offer a study of the Treatise to a general readership rather than simply to an academic audience in order to explain the book, its teachings, and its significance. Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison. He is the author of many books on Spinoza including a biography,Spinoza: A Life, a study of Spinoza's excommunication, Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind, and a study of Spinoza's Ethics,Spinoza's 'Ethics': An Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to Key Philosophical Texts).

Nadler quite properly emphasizes the radical revolutionary charater of Spinoza's Treatise. The title of Nadler's book derives from one of the many criticisms levelled at the Treatise shorly after its publication. One Willem van Blijenburgh, who had been a correspondent of Spinoza's, wrote a lengthy book refuting the Treatise in which he said: "This atheistic book is full of studious abominations and an accumulation of opinions which have been forged in hell, which every reasonable person, indeed every Christian, should find abhorrent." (p. 232) Nadler documents many similar comments about the book as well as the events which led to the ban on the book two years after its publication. More importantly, Nadler explains what it was in Spinoza's Treatise that so disturbed its contemporary readers.

The Treatise concerns the relationship between religion and government and between religion and philosophy, broadly contstrued to include all forms of intellectual inquiry. Spinoza was concerned with religious wars, limitations on thought, and clerics influence on civil government. In a way that manages to be both cautious and bold, the Treatise takes a naturalistic view of God and prophecy, denies the existence of miracles, and takes a historical approach to the composition and interpretation of Scripture. Spinoza finds the Bible the work of human beings writing at particular times. Religion's goals are ethical in that it teaches people to be kind to one another, but it does not have further cognitive or doctrinal teachings. In a free society, for Spinoza, people should be free to believe as they wish. As Nadler quotes the basic teaching of the Treatise: "The state can pursue no safer course than to regard piety and religion as consisting solely in the exercise of charity and just dealing, and that the right of the sovereign, both in religious and secular spheres, should be restricted to men's actions, with everyone being allowed to think what he will and to say what he thinks." (p.214)

Nadler's book begins with some brief biographical information about Spinoza and about his famous excommunication from the Amsterdam Jewish community. He also gives some important historical information about the Netherlands in Spinoza's day. Although there was in fact a larger degree of religious toleration in the Netherlands than in any other European community at the time, it was precarious and threatened by conflicts between monarchists and ecclesiastics on one hand and dissenting sects on the other hand. Spinoza wrote against a backdrop which thus contained both elements of liberty and the threat of repression. His aim was to increase the former. While there are universal lessons to be drawn from the Treatise, Nadler emphasizes that the book is also the product of a particular time and place. (For example, he writes: Moreover, while the Treatise remains of great relevance today, it is also a response to very particular and very complex historical exigencies, and we do not do it justice by trying to make it fit some transhistorical category of theories." p.207)

Most of the book consists of Nadler's close reading and exposition of Spinoza's text on the nature of god and prophecy, miracles, Scriptural interpretation and authorship, and political philosophy. Nadler ties the teachings of the Treatise to the teachings of Spinoza's much more obscure Ethics. Nadler also draws important parallels between Spinoza and other thinkers. Thomas Hobbes receives attention throughout, both in the way Spinoza followed and the way he differed from him. Nadler also pays attention to the great medieval Jewish thinker Maimonides and offers his views on what Spinoza learned from Maimonides and where he disagreed. Nadler compares Spinoza's treatment of miracles in the Treatise with the famous work on the subject by a subsequent philosopher, David Hume, as well as with medieval Jewish and Christian understandings of miracles. Spinoza's views on tolerance and free speech are compared and contrasted with the views of John Locke, John Milton, and of the First Amendment to the United States constitution. The book considers Spinoza's alleged role as the first "secular Jew" (which Nadler rejects) and Spinoza's role as the founder of a philosophy of secularism and of secular government (which Nadler accepts.)

Although long relegated to obscurity, the Treatise has been a book of pervasive and lasting influence. As Nadler concludes (p. 240):

"Without a doubt, the Theological-Political Treatise is one of the most important and influential books in the history of philosophy, in religious and political thought, and even in Bible studies. More than any other work, it laid the foundation for modern critical and historical approaches to the Bible. And while often overlooked in books on the history of political thought, the Treatise also has a proud and well-deserved place in the rise of democratic theory, civil liberties, and political liberalism. The ideas of the Treatise inspired republican revolutionaries in England, America, and France, and it encouraged early modern anticlerical and antisectarian movements."

I enjoyed revisiting the Treatise and thinking about it again through reading Nadler's study. Readers with a broad interest in philosophy and in ideas will benefit from Nadler's book and perhaps receive encouragement to read Spinoza's own book for themselves.

Robin Friedman
87 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Heavenly 28 Oct. 2011
By Hande Z - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The name Spinoza is well known although his books may not have been widely read in modern times. Even so, he is likely to be known as the Jewish philosopher who believed in pantheism. What was his philosophy and how did he come to embrace it? The first question is best answered by reading his two famous books, "Ethics" and "Theological-Political Treatise" ("TPT"). Steven Nadler, however, answers both questions in his 242-page book, "A Book Forged in Hell" ("BFH") in a lucid and exciting exposition which also provides a splendid biography of Baruch Spinoza, A Shephardic Jew who started in his family's dried fruit business and ended as an ex-communicated man whose masterpiece was placed in the Catholic Church's index of banned books. Spinoza started on "Ethics" but before he could finish it he was digressed to work on TPT. In "Ethics" he exhorted us to be free from irrational passions such as hope and fear, and from superstition. In TPT he exhorted the state to permit the freedom of expression and to philosophize. One reason why Spinoza is not better recognized is the lack of accurate translations of his works. That is why Nadler's book is such a welcome addition.

Spinoza was strongly against sectarian religion and an anthropomorphic God. He also opposed the accusation that he was an atheist. He believed in religion, but his God is not a God who has human traits like love, anger and jealousy. He believed that God is Nature. To Spinoza, everything is reducible to Nature, and thus his God is everything and everywhere. It is not a distinct being that requires or indulges in dialogue with man. Hence Spinoza's religion is generally classified as a form of pantheism. In Spinoza's system, as Nadler writes, "naturalism will not allow for any supernatural facts" and "there is no transcendent God exercising supernatural, ad hoc communications." Thus in TPT Spinoza attacks prophets and miracles. His treatise on these subjects is dealt with in two separate chapters in BFH. Nadler writes: "If, as Spinoza says, `the gift of prophecy did not render the prophets more learned,' it is also true that listening to a prophet will not make one more intelligent. Spinoza was of the view that prophecy is not rational but arises from imagination. So far as miracles are concerned, in the Spinozan system, where God is Nature, there is no role for God to intervene in ad hoc situations to alter the course of nature for particular occasions. Idiosyncrasy is clearly not a Godly attribute. In many ways, Spinoza's naturalism is like Zen Buddhism. Nadler summarizes: "When a person achieves a high level of understanding of Nature and realizes that he cannot control what it brings his way or takes from him, he becomes less anxious over things, less governed by the affects of hope and fear over what may or may not come to pass. No longer obsessed with or despondent over the loss of his possessions, he is less likely to be overwhelmed with emotions at their arrival and passing away. Such a person will regard all things with an even temper and will not be inordinately and irrationally affected in different ways by past, present, or future events. His life will be tranquil and not given to sudden disturbances of the passions. The result is self-control and a calmness of mind."

In deconstructing the anthropomorphic God, Spinoza turned his attention to the Scriptures, which he described as words of theologians passing off "human fabrications as divine teachings". After all, id a scripture is truly God's words then every meaning must be the true meaning. How does one then accommodate all the diverse and often contradictory interpretations? Spinoza also discussed the practical problems of the missing original words because the native speakers of ancient Hebrew and Aramic have all disappeared, and even when their meanings are known, Nadler writes, "what is lacking is an idiomatic and colloquial knowledge that would allow us to make sense of the passage."

In the latter part of BFH Nadler describes Spinoza's views on "Judaism, Christianity, and True Religion" and the relationship between "Faith, Reason and the State," he writes, "the separation of the spheres of philosophy and faith is at the heart of Spinoza's argument for the theme of the [TPT]". Finally, Nadler provides a thrilling account of the rise of the Christian fundamentalists and the persecution of secular thinkers, including Spinoza. As Spinoza professed throughout "Ethics" and "TPT" that the only true virtue is to love one's neighbour as himself, Nadler concludes: "To the extent that we are committed to the ideal of a secular society free of ecclesiastic influence and governed by toleration, liberty, and a conception of civi virtue; insofar as we think of true religious piety as consisting in treating human beings with dignity and respect, and regard the Bible simply as a profound work of human literature with a universal moral message, we are heirs of Spinoza's scandalous treatise."
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hell should forge more books... 1 Jan. 2012
By ewomack - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
If Spinoza's highly neglected but highly influential "Theological-Political Treatise" exemplifies the publishing output of Hell, then we clearly need to see more books forged from this fount of human imagination. The "scandalous treatise," roundly condemned in its time, broke many hallowed boundaries and arguably influenced many who would architect new political systems that applauded toleration and freedom of expression. None of this helped Spinoza in his own time, of course. He found himself unjustifiably labeled an "atheist." Meanwhile, his peers, some of whom he thought should have known better, ridiculed the work as blasphemous either out of self preservation or genuine repugnance. Nonetheless, his reputation increased in unofficial channels. Many of the day's leading lights sought correspondence with him, though some were abhorred by the audacity of the ideas they found. Some found the devil himself in print.

These same ideas that once summoned the depths of damnation don't always present themselves in an accessible manner to today's reader. As such, those lacking a background in philosophy or 17th century Dutch history may find the works of Spinoza forbidding and impenetrable. Just open up his most famous work, "The Ethics," to get a taste. Many would justifiably find their interests squashed by reading a mere page of this quasi-geometrical work filled with seemingly abstruse metaphysics that speaks of "God" in a manner that still seems arcane. Though the "Theological-Political Treatise" presents fewer challenges than "The Ethics," it nonetheless has its own difficulties that could hinder an unguided reading. Spinoza's work shares the same fate of many historical philosophical masterpieces: it's far easier to read about these works than it is to read the works themselves. This goes quadruple for those arriving with no philosophical background. To make things worse, up to this point popular treatments of Spinoza's thought have remained pretty much nonexistent. Thankfully, Spinoza scholar Stephen Nadler has provided a highly accessible popular introduction to Spinoza's most infamous work. The title, "A Book Forged in Hell," takes its name from actual commentary from Spinoza's day. Some did indeed consider this work the product of evil incarnate. Some still might even today.

Nadler presents a clear outline of just why Spinoza's contemporaries railed against this work so vehemently. In light of its time, the work stands out as almost foolishly brave, though Spinoza and his publisher took many precautions learned from the unfortunate fates of others who dared to publish their controversial thoughts. The book was published anonymously in Latin and with a false publisher on the title page, to name a few of these precautions. These were definitely needed because, in short, the "Theological-Political Treatise" argues that religion as practiced added up to no more than "superstition" and represented "false religion," humans created the Bible and it should get treated hermeneutically as literature and not as a source of truth, miracles were "impossible" and "against the laws of nature," and the proper state should legally bar ecclesiastical authorities from meddling with freethinking philosophizing. These were extremely dangerous ideas even in summary. Not only that, Spinoza aimed his thoughts right between the eyes of the power structure of his time. His work sought to undermine the religious justification used by many to rule and persecute others. Arguably, he wrote a revolutionary book. It would, after all, influence subsequent revolutions, though Spinoza himself penned no rabble-rousing call to arms. He appealed instead to people's rationality. The revolution would come through bloodless reason and ultimately lead to a secular and democratic society. Here people would subject themselves to the state, but they would eventually acknowledge that their subjugation suited their best interests. A maximally ideal state would thus comprise no laws, but only people who followed their self-interest to its logical conclusion, which, according to Spinoza, also corresponds to the maxim of all religion: love one's neighbor.

This probably sounds somewhat naive, if not overly idealistic, today. Even more so since Spinoza provided no detailed blueprint for his model society in the "Theological-Political Treatise" to bolster such assertions. How could such a society, though nice in theory, come to fruition? Supposedly, such nuances were to appear in the "Political Treatise" left incomplete at his death in 1677. Once theological matters were out of the way, which remained one of the goals of the earlier treatise, he could presumably focus on the real-world implementation of his ideas. This, of course, never happened. Regardless, the "Theological-Political Treatise" still stands as one of the most important books in the entire history of philosophy, despite the inevitable flaws. Some of its goals just took a few centuries to realize even in partial form. And given the context in which these ideas were expressed, the book takes on an almost shocking historical dimension, even though Spinoza was not always the first to express such ideas. He did though, as Nadler emphasizes throughout, go further than most.

"A Book Forged in Hell" presents a perfect general introduction to the political thought of Spinoza. Nearly anyone can pick up this book and comprehend its text. Nadler also sets the context of the work squarely in 17th century Holland and delineates ethos of the time. Historical contingency worked for and then against Spinoza's Treatise. The "New Freedom" ultimately allowed its cautious publication, but some four years passed before detractors were able to see it actually banned. In the aftermath of the fall of De Witt and his supporters the backlash against the book increased. Spinoza's publisher, Rieuwertsz, used increasingly ingenious tactics to distribute the book, including retitling it and repacking it with other books. He denied everything publicly. This just incensed the authorities. Despite all this, the book lived on through general neglect until the second half of the twentieth century. Interest in Spinoza and his philosophy now seems more intense than ever as his ideas appeal to many modern sensibilities. It doesn't hurt that Albert Einstein admired Spinoza and mused on Spinozian ideas of a personal God in letters and poems (though these often get quoted out of context). But this book focuses on just one of Spinoza's works. To complete the picture one needs to tackle "The Ethics." Nadler has also written an introduction to this text, though it targets a more philosophical audience Spinoza's 'Ethics': An Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to Key Philosophical Texts). He has also published a renowned biography of Spinoza Spinoza: A Life. So one can start or stop here, depending upon the level of interest this book evokes. But given the recent surge of interest in one of philosophy's most reclusive and fascinating figures, more general introductions, hopefully as good as this one, can't be too far around the corner.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spinoza was teaching what Maimonides taught before him 30 Jan. 2015
By Israel Drazin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Robin Friedman wrote a superb extensive review of Nadler’s very informative book, “A Book Forged in Hell,” and placed it on amazon. So it would be superfluous for me to reiterate what he explained so well. I will comment instead on what I got out of the book. It confirmed my understanding that I wrote about in my 2008 book “Maimonides: The Exceptional Mind”: whether he realized it or not, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) who was very familiar with the philosophical writings of Maimonides (1138-1204) seems to be saying essentially what Maimonides taught; but whereas Maimonides hid his true views – writing his work so that the less educated readers would think he was reflecting their understanding of God and nature, while educated philosophically-trained readers would see he was saying something entirely different and deeper – Spinoza revealed his views more openly than Maimonides, but not entirely openly. For he, like Maimonides, was hounded by impassioned religious zealots who were unable to bear to hear people articulate views that contradicted their own long-held notions. If I am right, Spinoza did not introduce new ideas, but he did encourage the birth of the secular age because until his time virtually all civilizations were encumbered by pious religious notions. Let’s look at some of Spinoza’s teachings.

Spinoza wrote that God is seen in nature, but as I said, he was not open about all his views. Scholars differ in interpreting what he meant. Some say that he rejected the idea of the existence of God and was saying, as a pantheist, if you want to use the word God, use it to describe nature. Others said that that he was saying: we have no way of knowing what God is, how God functions, or, for that matter, anything about the nature of God. Thus, if we want to know about God, we should study the laws of nature that God created or formed out of preexisting matter. This is all we can know about God. Additionally, by learning the laws of nature and using our knowledge to live a better life, to improve ourselves and society, we will be doing what humans were created to do: use their minds. Spinoza put it this way: “we acquire a greater and more perfect knowledge of God as we gain more knowledge of natural phenomena…the greater our knowledge of natural phenomena, the more perfect is our knowledge of God’s essence, which is the cause of all things.”

Now this later interpretation is exactly what Maimonides taught in his Guide of the Perplexed and in his law code Mishneh Torah. In fact he begins both books by stressing that humans should develop their minds by studying the laws of nature, to strive to “know” about God, not passively “believe.”

The two scholars agreed that God does not have human features or emotions. This was one of Maimonides greatest contributions to religion. Until his time, only a few wise men understood that God was incorporeal, that when the Bible described God acting as a human with human emotions, this was done figuratively to make God more comprehensible to the average person. It took some decades for the new idea to be accepted. One of the leading rabbis of Maimonides’ time criticized Maimonides with strong words: far better men than he understood that God has a body and emotions. A generation after Maimonides, the sage Nachmanides criticized him similarly.

Maimonides and Spinoza did not think that God performs miracles. Maimonides points this out in his Guide, Book two, chapter 48, where he states that whenever the Bible says that God did something, it should be understood to mean that it occurred according to the laws of nature that God created. Why then does the Bible say that God did it? He answers: it is referring to the fact that God created the laws of nature that produced the described act. Maimonides was convinced that the ancient rabbis saw matters as he did. He referred to the Talmudic statement that certain miracles were created during the six days of creation. Maimonides interpreted the statement to mean that these miracles were part of the laws of nature in the original creation.

Both scholars felt that prophecy was not a miraculous conveyance of information from God, but the natural use of a higher level of intelligence by men and women who had superior intelligence. Spinoza criticized Maimonides on this point because Maimonides said the prophet also had to have an advanced imagination. Spinoza said imagination is not involved, only intelligence. He misunderstood his predecessor. Maimonides was saying that the prophet who acquired the ideas from his intelligent study of events needed a good imagination to communicate the idea to the masses so that they could understand what he was saying, by parables or poetry or symbols. Actually the two were saying the same thing.

Spinoza also criticized Maimonides for twisting the meaning of biblical passages to make them fit non-biblical philosophical doctrines. Maimonides “assumes that it is legitimate for us to explain away and distort the words of Scripture to accord with our preconceived opinions, to deny its literal meaning and change it into something else even when it is perfectly plain and absolutely clear.” Two things should be noted. First, Spinoza is not saying here that he disagrees with Maimonides’ teaching. He is saying that he disagrees with Maimonides method of saying that his (and Spinoza’s) teaching is in the Bible when it is clear that the teaching is not there. Second, Spinoza is making this point because of his agenda to point out that the Torah has many philosophically unpalatable notions. Maimonides also recognized this, such as when he discusses “an eye for an eye” or the law allowing soldiers to have sex under certain conditions with a “captive woman” in war. Spinoza is correct that Maimonides does say that his (and Spinoza’s) ideas are in the Torah even though it is obvious not there. However, Maimonides said the ideas are in the Torah to make them acceptable to his coreligionists. There is no disagreement here on philosophical matters.

They agree that there is no such thing as a holy object. As Nadler puts it, “something is divine (or holy) if and only if it moves people to act according to justice and charity” or as Spinoza wrote, “A thing is called sacred and divine only as long as men use it in a religious way.”

I listed other ideas where the two scholars agreed in my 2008 book. They concurred that: There are fixed laws of nature that people should study in a rational manner and make decisions based on what is true or false, not beliefs, faith, tradition, or superstition. Prayers and incantations will not change natural law. The world is devoid of defects, and there are no defects in the laws of nature. People are not the center of the universe despite most people thinking the opposite. Natural law also affects how people think. (Some scholars thought that this idea, mentioned by Spinoza, shows that he thought people do not have free will. They misunderstood Spinoza. He and Maimonides taught that people’s ideas are influenced by nature and the ideas of others, but they can overcome the problem by diligent study.) The foundation and goal of virtue and law is improvement of self and society. (Maimonides adds that this is also the purpose of Torah laws.)

Nadler ends his book by stating: “More than any other work, it laid the foundation for modern critical and historical approaches to the Bible.” This is true as far as it goes. Spinoza did indeed make people sensitive to the need for a critical analysis of the Bible. This was one of his primary goals and he succeeded in it. Maimonides did not have this goal; he wanted the opposite, to encourage people to respect the Bible. But Spinoza was not the originator of his philosophical ideas. Maimonides had already articulated them a half a millennium earlier. Both derived their ideas from non-biblical sources, but while Spinoza made it clear that the ideas are not biblical, Maimonides, wanting to persuade Jews to accept the teachings and to respect the Bible, said the philosophy is contained in the Torah.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to The Theological-Political Treatise 16 April 2012
By David T. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My interest in philosophy started only a little over half a year ago; I read Durant's History of Philosophy and I've slowly read more in the months after. From Durant's book the philosopher I've been most interested in is Spinoza. Here was this renegade Jew who questioned the bible and the faith of his fathers only to be excommunicated and later wrote a few political and religious texts. Eventually I'm going to attempt to tackle his Ethics, but the geometric style sort of scares me (furthermore I have absolutely no training in philosophy). In the mean time I'm going to read his more accessible Theological-Political Treatise (referred to in early criticisms as a 'book forged in hell'); this lead me to this excellent introduction from Nadler.

This book covers a brief history of Spinoza, the environment he lived in, the events leading up to his publishing of TPT, and the aftermath of the book. Here you have the common stories such as Spinoza developing the ideas of his version of God which got him excommunicated from the Jewish community, the death of his friend for publishing a book questioning the rationality of religion, Spinoza wanting to publish The Ethics only to decide to write TPT in order to prove that he wasn't an atheist and to better get the public ready for his ideas which would be in the later published book (only to have this backfire when most who read his book labeled him as an atheist). It doesn't cover all of Spinoza's life and death, although Nadler has written a comprehensive biography on Spinoza (one which I plan to read).

The bulk of the book covers themes and ideas in TPT along with comparisons to the works which inspired Spinoza. It seems that the major influences on TPT are Hobbes's Leviathan and Maimonides's Guide to the Perplexed. For someone like myself who is interested in religious texts, the TPT sounds very interesting. Written at a time when the majority of the public considered the bible as almost directly dictated by god (similar to the modern Islamic view of the Quran), Spinoza attempted to question that notion and prove that not only is the bible a man made book, but that the common assumptions such as those like authorship of it were wrong (for example Moses didn't author the Torah), and he supported the redactor view that Ezra was likely the later compiler/editor of the Hebrew bible and Ezra was rushed, which explains the sometimes contradictory nature of it (ie compare Genesis 1 with 2-3). The influence of this early criticism is still felt today, with this book leading the way to later higher and historical criticisms of the bible.

Moving away from the religious themes, the TPT also presents one of the earliest major philosophic arguments for democracy. He highly supports religious freedom and freedom to philosophize (one of the major reasons for attacking the scriptures was to lessen religious constraints). One of the things I did find odd though was that apparently Spinoza supported a state religion, I guess he wants the average man to follow these teachings (while still allowing complete freedom for religious toleration).

Overall this book was excellent, in the past few weeks I've read a few popular accounts of Spinoza and I liked this one the best. Nadler's book was accessible and did the best job explaining the philosophy (although I he did have the benefit of not getting far into the more complicated philosophy of The Ethics). I feel ready to finally tackle my first Spinoza the TPT. When I finally feel ready to read The Ethics, I'll be sure to first pick up Nadler's introduction.
Were these reviews helpful? Let us know
click to open popover