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Spinoza on the Hebrew Bible
A Portrait of Baruch Spinoza, from the Avraham Schwadron Collection

Spinoza on the Hebrew Bible

A Grammar That Is Not a Grammar About a Language That Is Not a Language

Spinoza on the Hebrew Bible

Irene Zwiep, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies and Director of the Amsterdam Institute of Humanities Research, University of Amsterdam


Why write a book on Hebrew grammar in late seventeenth-century Amsterdam, and add yet another volume to the already bulging library of Hebrew manuals in the Dutch Republic?

Why bother, when you are convinced that the task is both impossible and pointless?

As a former practicing Jew, Baruch Spinoza considered the language of the biblical Hebrews firmly out of scientific reach, buried under layers of Diasporic transmission and abuse. As a philosopher, he considered language of secondary importance, an instrument of the body rather than of the (superior) mind.

Yet sometime around 1673 he devoted his ailing strengths to the composition of a "Grammatical Compendium of the Hebrew Language". The result was nothing short of a revenge on Hebrew linguistics. In the lecture below, we will try to reconstruct Spinoza’s motives for writing this puzzling treatise and try to place it within his philosophical oeuvre. In passing, we will have a look at his Jewish and Christian sources, his curious research methods and, as he himself called it, the ‘absurd results’ of his linguistic analysis.


Monday April 12th 30 Nissan 08:00 - 09:00


Irene Zwiep


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A Portrait of Baruch Spinoza, from the Avraham Schwadron Collection