Judaism for Pascal

This blog’s occupation with Pascal may continue four more weeks. Four readings of the Pensées remain to be posted here, with my annotations.

The present post will take up a question raised by the latest reading so far, which is the thirteenth.

In the twelfth reading, to somebody looking for faith, Pascal recommended acting as if he already had it. For the person of today, faced with various options, at least in a liberal society, the question remains (which was asked in our seminar) of which faith to follow. Could the person of Pascal’s day, whether gentile or Jew by breeding, have sensibly considered the option of Judaism as a faith, according to Pascal?

About reading Pascal, I made some general remarks in “Reason in Pascal” and for the third reading. For the sixth reading, I noted,

Pascal may be study[ing] scripture as scientists such as himself study nature, and Isaac Newton (nineteen years younger) may resemble him in this.

I elaborated in “Abraham and Gideon,” where I took up the relation between human law and physical law. Concerning the former, I wondered about the relation of Jewish law to Roman law. The relation is of primitive to derivative, says Pascal in the last reading, 691–421–451–620.

Though Pascal cites Josephus and Philo, I could find the argument only of the former. According to the commentary of Descotes and Proust, Voltaire denied any connection between Jewish and Roman law:

  • Egyptian law is older than Mosaic anyway;
  • In Book XI of the Odyssey, Homer refers to Minos, “who holds the golden scepter and sits in judgment on the dead” (lines 568–9 in Emily Wilson’s translation), and where there are judges, there are laws;
  • in early republican times, the Greeks and Romans did not know the Jews; in later times, despised them.

Here is Voltaire himself, in Lettres philosophiques, XXV, § VIII, éd. Ferret et McKenna, Garnier, p. 170:

Il est très faux que la loi des Juifs soit la plus ancienne, puisque avant Moïse, leur législateur, ils demeuraient en Égypte, le pays de la terre le plus renommé pour ses sages lois.

Il est très faux que le nom de loi n’ait été connu qu’après Homère ; il parle des lois de Minos ; le mot de loi est dans Hésiode. Et quand le nom de loi ne se trouverait ni dans Hésiode ni dans Homère, cela ne prouverait rien. Il y avait des lois et des juges ; donc il y avait des lois.

Il est encore très faux que les Grecs et les Romains aient pris des lois des Juifs. Ce ne peut être dans les commencements de leurs républiques, car alors ils ne pouvaient connaître les Juifs ; ce ne peut être dans le temps de leur grandeur, car alors ils avaient pour ces barbares un mépris connu de toute la terre.

That last remark is not conclusive. We can take ideas from people whom we scorn. Pascal himself would seem to do this with the Jews: he admires their history and their holy book, while taking the people to task for not recognizing that Jesus is the Christ.

Regarding what the Greeks and Romans took from the Jews, if anything, there are sources beyond Josephus that I could try to track down some day. The commentators name some of them:

Grotius Hugo, Le droit de la guerre et de la paix, éd. Alland et Goyard-Fabre, II, ch. I, XII, 1, Paris, P. U. F., 1999, p. 172. « Voyons quel est le sens de la loi hébraïque, avec laquelle s’accorde la loi ancienne de Solon, dont Démosthène fait mention dans son discours contre Timocrate, et qui a été la source de la loi des Douze Tables ».

La tradition selon laquelle les Grecs n’ont jamais vraiment rien inventé, ou n’ont inventé que des absurdités, mais qu’ils ont pris à la Bible leurs idées philosophiques les plus solides, remonterait, semble-t-il, au philosophe grec Aristobule (vers 150 avant Jésus-Christ), et se retrouverait chez Tatien, Discours aux Grecs (entre 166 et 171), et, du côté de l’école judéo-alexandrine, à Josèphe, Contre Apion I, XXII (exemple de Pythagore de Samos), et Philon, Allégories, I, 33, ainsi que chez Justin, Clément d’Alexandrie et Origène.

Justin, Première apologie, 59-60, écrit bien que Platon s’est inspiré de Moïse, mais à propos de la genèse du monde, et non pour ce qui touche la loi.

Eusèbe, Praepar. Evang. XI, 6, indique que Platon a appris de Moïse, mais à propos de l’imposition des noms.

An online text of Philo’s Allegorical Interpretation, I is divided into XXXIII chapters and 108 sections. The last section mentions Heraclitus. I quote from the last two sections, constituting fragment R75b of Heraclitus in the Loeb volume edited by André Laks and Glenn W. Most, Early Greek Philosophy III (2016):

When he [i.e. Moses] says, “to die the death” [cf. Gen. 2:17], notice that he is taking death as a punishment, not as the one that happens by nature … And Heraclitus did well to follow the doctrine of Moses on this point, for he says, “we live their death and we die their life” [cf. D70], on the idea that now, while we are alive, our soul has died and is buried in the body as though in a tomb, but that if we die, then the soul lives its own life and is freed from the evil, dead body to which it was attached.

The brackets are in the original. Genesis 2:17 and Heraclitus fragment D70 (DK B62, Bywater LXVII) are

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Immortals mortals, mortals immortals, living the death of these, dying the life of those.

In the last Pascal reading, the point of S 693, L 453, is stated at the beginning:

To show that the true Jews and the true Christians have but one and the same religion.

Does that mean you can go to church, or go to synagogue, and it doesn’t matter? What about mosque; can you go there?

I am using Ariew’s translations now, since I wrote out the remainder of this post with other seminar participants in mind.

In S 715, L 480, there is the statement,

In all religions, we must be sincere: true heathens, true Jews, true Christians.

The heathens are païens, pagans. Perhaps the Muslims, Chinese, ancient Romans, and Egyptians mentioned in S 694, L 454 are to be counted as pagan here. Pascal says he “would have equally rejected” their religion,

for the sole reason that, since none of them bears greater marks of truth than any other, nor anything that would necessarily determine me, reason cannot incline toward one rather than the other.

Perhaps reason can incline somebody else towards one of these religions, or towards Greek religion if distinct from Roman.

Pascal says at the beginning of the current reading, S 688, L 436, that the Iliad is just a novel; however, I think it teaches something comparable (though not the same) with what Pascal finds in Hebrew scripture:

  • people are fools for trusting in the gods they do;
  • the best human beings may be foreigners.

Reason inclines Pascal towards Judaism, which, again, by S 693, L 453, is really the same as Christianity. He cites lots of Hebrew scripture on this point, but not everybody will agree with his interpretation.

For example, one-third into S 693, L 453, he says,

The love of God is commanded through all of Deuteronomy …

That the Jews, for lack of that love, will be rejected for their offenses, and the heathen chosen in their place.

He cites Deuteronomy 32:20 (and implicitly 21):

20 And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.

21 They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

This is not the last thing God will do!

The whole chapter Deuteronomy 32 is the Torah portion called Haazinu, “Listen ye,” or perhaps Listen up! The portion contains the last song of Moses before death. It says God will let the enemies have the upper hand for a while, but not forever, lest they think their power is their own, and not God’s.

“Their foot shall slide in due time,” says God in verse 35. This is the epigram for the 1741 sermon of Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards thinks God is threatening the Israelites. I think he’s threatening their enemies; for in the end, God sides with Israel, against the heathen. Thus Pascal would seem to be wrong too.

Pascal recognized that there would be differences of interpretation in our fourth reading, S 289, L 257:

Every author has a meaning in which all the contrary passages agree, or he has no meaning at all. The latter cannot be said of scripture and the prophets; they certainly were full of good sense. We must, then, seek for a meaning that reconciles all oppositions.

The true meaning, then, is not that of the Jews, but all contradictions are reconciled in Jesus Christ. The Jews could not reconcile the end of the kings and princes predicted by Hosea with the prophecy of Jacob.

Actually that’s Ariew’s interpretation of Pascal, but Trotter is similar. Here’s Pascal himself for the first paragraph:

Tout auteur a un sens auquel tous les passages contraires s’accordent ou il n’a point de sens du tout. On ne peut pas dire cela de l’Écriture et des prophètes : ils avaient assurément trop de bon sens. Il faut donc en chercher un qui accorde toutes les contrariétés.

The following seems more literal:

Every author has a sense in which all contradictory passages agree, or he has no sense at all. One cannot say that of Scripture and the prophets: they have assuredly too much good sense. It is therefore needed to find one of them that puts all of the contradictions in accord.

“One of them” could be just one of many good senses that can be given to the words of the Bible.

Pascal alludes to the prediction of Hosea in the present reading, near the end of S 693, L 453: “Without king, without prince, without sacrifice, without idol.” Here is Hosea 3:4:

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim.

But then Jacob said in Genesis 49:10:

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.

Christians take Shiloh to be Jesus Christ; Muslims, Muhammad (although Wikipedia editors have removed the latter information as unreliably documented).

In any case, the Genesis passage was a theme in the fifth reading, as in S 369, L 337:

Herod believed [himself] the Messiah. He had taken away the scepter from Judah, but he was not of Judah. This gave rise to a considerable sect …

Pascal says in the present reading, S 700, L 461,

The world exists for the exercise of mercy and judgment, not as if the men in it came from the hands of God, but as if they were as the enemies of God, to whom he grants by his grace enough light to return, if they want to seek and follow him; but also for punishing them, if they refuse to seek or follow him.

Similarly, S 709, L 472:

Religion is such a great thing that it is right that those who would not take the trouble to seek it, if it is obscure, should be deprived of it. What, then, is there to complain about, if it is such that it can be found by seeking?

Are Jews who insist on being Jews not seeking religion?

4 Trackbacks

  1. By Hostility and Hospitality « Polytropy on June 15, 2021 at 4:07 am

    […] / L 451 / B 620), but later Greeks took this and other things from the Jews. I discussed this in “Judaism for Pascal.” For example, Philo Judaeus thinks that when Heraclitus says, “We live their death and we die […]

  2. By Pascal, Pensées, S 1–114 « Polytropy on November 29, 2021 at 6:14 am

    […] “Judaism for Pascal” […]

  3. By Plato and Christianity « Polytropy on January 11, 2022 at 9:33 pm

    […] “Judaism for Pascal,” I looked at some of the (weak) evidence for Pascal’s idea that Roman law derived from Jewish. […]

  4. By “It Was Good” « Polytropy on October 31, 2022 at 6:35 am

    […] Christians can misinterpret Hebrew scriptures, such as Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time,” which I looked at in “The Hands of an Angry Deity” and “Judaism for Pascal.” […]

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