Enlightenment From Voltaire



Voltaire's Deism

"It is then apparent that, if there are great crimes on the earth, there are as many virtues; and that, if superstition produces horrible sufferings, philosophy redresses them."

"We hold the Jews in horror, and we insist that all which has been written by them, and collected by us, bears the stamp of Divinity. There never was so palpable a contradiction."

"Let each of us boldly and honestly say: How little it is that I really know!"

"What is faith? Is it to believe that which is evident? No. It is perfectly evident to my mind that there exists a necessary, eternal, supreme, and intelligent being. This is no matter of faith, but of reason."

"Truly, whoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you unjust. If the God-given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world."

"The most beautiful of all emblems is that of God, whom Timaeus of Locris describes under the image of 'A circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.'"

"An almost infallible means of saving yourself from the desire of self-destruction is always to have something to do."

"A good action is preferable to an argument."

"Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are opening a new road."

"Only because a host of experiences belied predictions, did men at last perceive that the art (astrology) is illusory; but, before being undeceived, they were long credulous."



So much has been said and so much written concerning Adam, his wife, the pre-Adamites, etc., and the rabbis have put forth so many idle stories respecting Adam, and it is so dull to repeat what others have said before, that I shall here hazard a new idea, or one, at least, which is not to found in any ancient author, father of the church, preacher, theologian, critic, or scholar with whom I am acquainted. I mean the profound secrecy with respect to Adam which was observed throughout the habitable earth, Palestine only excepted, until the time when the Jewish books began to be known in Alexandria, and were translated into Greek under one of the Ptolemies. Even then they were very little known; for large books were very rare and very dear. Besides, the Jews in Jerusalem were so incensed against those of Alexandria, loaded them with so many reproaches for having translated their Bible into a profane tongue, called them so many ill names, and cried so loudly to the Lord, that the Alexandrian Jews concealed their translation as much as possible. It was so secret that no Greek or Roman author speaks of it before the time of the Emperor Aurelian.

The historian Josephus confesses, in his answer to Appian, that the Jews had only recently had any intercourse with other nations: "We inhabit," says he, "a country distant from the sea; we do not apply ourselves to commerce, nor have we any communications with other peoples. Is it to be wondered at that our nation, dwelling so far from the sea, and affecting never to write, have been so little known?"

Here it will probably be asked how Josephus could say that his nation affected never to write anything, when they had twenty-two canonical books, without reckoning the Targum by Onkelos. But it must be considered that twenty-two small volumes were not much when compared with the multitude of books preserved in the library of Alexandria, half of which were burned in Caesar's war.

It is certain that the Jews had written and read very little; that they were profoundly ignorant of astronomy, geometry, geography, and physics; that they knew nothing of the history of other nations; and that it was only in Alexandria that they at last began to acquire some learning. Their language was a barbarous mixture of ancient Phoenician and corrupted Chaldee; it was so poor that several moods were wanting in the conjugation of their verbs.

Moreover, as they communicated neither their books nor the titles of them to any foreigner, no one on earth except themselves had ever heard of Adam, or Eve, or Abel, or Cain, or Noah. Abraham alone was, in course of time, known to the Oriental nations; but no ancient people admitted Abraham, or Ibrahim, was the root of the Jewish nation.

Such are the secrets of Providence, that the father and mother of the human race have ever been totally unknown to their descendants; so that the names of Adam and Eve are to be found in no ancient author, either of Greece, of Rome, of Persia, or of Syria, nor even among the Arabs, until near the time of Mohammed. It was God's pleasure that the origin of the great family of the world should be concealed from all but the smallest and most unfortunate part of that family.

How is it that Adam and Eve have been unknown to all their children? How could it be that neither in Egypt nor in Babylon was any trace - any tradition - of our first parents to be found? Why were they not mentioned by Orpheus, by Linus, or by Thamyris? For if they had said but one word of them, it would undoubtedly have been caught by Hesiod and even more surely by Homer, who speak of everything except the authors of the human race. Clement of Alexandria, who collected so many ancient records, would not have failed to quote any passage in which mention had been made of Adam and Eve. Eusebius, in his Universal History, has examined even the most doubtful testimonies, and would assuredly have made the most of the smallest allusion, or appearance of an allusion, to our first parents. It is, then, established that they were always utterly unknown to the nations.

We do not see the name of Noah or of Adam in any of the ancient dynasties of Egypt; they are not to be found among the Chaldeans; in a word, the whole earth has been silent respecting them. It must be owned that such a silence is unparalleled. Every people has attributed to itself some imaginary origin, yet none has approached the true one. We cannot comprehend how the father of all nations has so long been unknown, while in the natural course of things his name should have been carried from mouth to mouth to the farthest corners of the earth.

Let us humble ourselves to the decrees of that Providence which has permitted so astonishing an oblivion. All was mysterious and concealed in the nation guided by God Himself, which prepared the way for Christianity, and was the wild olive on which the fruitful one has been grafted. That the names of the authors of mankind should be unknown to mankind is a mystery of the highest order.

I will venture to affirm that it has required a miracle thus to shut the eyes and ears of all nations - to destroy every monument, every memorial of their first father. What would Caesar, Antony, Crassus, Pompey, Cicero, Marcellus, or Metellus have thought, if a poor Jew, while selling them balm, had said, "We all descend from one father, named Adam." All the Roman senate would have cried, "Show us our genealogical tree." Then the Jew would have displayed his ten generations, down to the time of Noah, and the secret of the universal deluge. The senate would have asked him how many persons were in the ark to feed all the animals for ten whole months, and during the following year in which no food would be produced? The peddler would have said, "We were eight - Noah and his wife, their three sons, Shem, Ham, and Jauphet, and their wives. All this family descended in a direct line from Adam.

Cicero, would, doubtless, have inquired for the great monuments, the indisputable testimonies which Noah and his children had left of our common father. "After the deluge," he would have said, "the whole world would have resounded with the names of Adam and Noah, one the father, the other the restorer of every race. These names would have been in every mouth as soon as men could speak, on every parchment as soon as they could write, on the door of every house as soon as they could build, on every temple, on every statue. You mean to tell us that you knew so great a secret, yet concealed it from us?" The Jew would have answered: "It is because we are pure and you are impure." The Roman senate would have laughed and the Jew would have been whipped. So much are men attached to their prejudices!



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Click here to read the article
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