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Philosophy, deism, and the early jewish enlightenment (1655–1740)

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Chapter Summary

In one of the many books published in Holland relating to the Bekker controversies (1691-1694), the Reformed theologian Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) expressed his growing alarm at the way new post-Cartesian forms of rationalist philosophy were progressively undermining the ascendancy of theological concepts in Dutch society. This philosophical rationalist streak in early modern western Sephardi culture was indeed destined to grow into something that can be usefully termed the "Early Jewish Enlightenment," though this phenomenon should by no means be regarded as solely Sephardi in character. Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens, of course, knowingly or unknowingly obscures the fact that the authentic medieval and early modern Karaism was, in reality, less rationalist than Scripturalist and fundamentalist, denying the whole interpretive tradition in the name of "biblical literalism," more in the style, as Richard Simon appreciated, of Protestant reformers reacting to pre-Reformation Catholicism than eighteenth-century deists responding to priestly obscurantism.

Keywords: early Jewish enlightenment; early modern western Sephardi culture; eighteenth-century deists; philosophical rationalist



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