, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 357–367 | Cite as

Tainted greatness: The case of voltaire's anti-semitism

The testimony of the correspondence
  • Arnold Ages


Jewish People Guerilla Warfare Critique Biblique Jewish Merchant Golden Calf 
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  1. 1.
    Some of the most important inquiries include Arthur Hertzberg,The French Enlightenment and the Jews (New York, 1968); Jacob Katz, “Le Judaisme et les Juifs vus par Voltaire”,Dispersion et unité, No. 18, pp. 135–149; Paul Sakmann, “Voltaire als Kritiker der Bibel und des Christentums”,Zeitschrift fur wissenschaftlicher Theologie, 49 (1906), pp. 398–421, 494–571; Bertram Schwartzbach, “Voltaire et ses inversions des ‘mythes des origines’ juives par une haute critique biblique”, inPrimitivisme et mythes des origines dans la France des Lumières, 1680–1820 (Paris: Presse de l'université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1989), pp. 135–151; W. B. Stevenson, “A find of unpublished Voltaire letters between Voltaire and Hirschel in Glasgow”,Transactions Glasgow Archaeological Society, 6 (1912), pp. 282–288.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    “Though the bulk of Voltaire's references to Jews and Judaism are derisive,” writes Frank E. Manuel inThe Broken Staff-Judaism Through Christian Eyes (Cambridge, Mass., 1992, p. 200) the philosophical Voltaire had moments when he stopped to contemplate more soberly the historical destiny of the Jewish people. Manuel also emphasizes the fact that on several occasions Voltaire refers warmly to Judaism as the parent religion of Christianity and Islam.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    It is significant that in the 8,000 letters of Rousseau compiled and published by Professor R. A. Leigh (Geneva-Oxford, 1962–1988) there is not a scintilla of anti-Semitic prejudice while there is much criticism of the Catholic and, occasionally, Protestant chruches. Diderot, in the 1,000 or so letters which have appeared in the Roth-Varloot edition of the correspondence (Paris, 1955–1966) similarly refrains from calumniating Jews. There is some evidence, however, in Diderot's Encycopédie of articles attacking Jews, Judaism and the rabbinic tradition.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Manuel,op. cit. “Though the bulk of Voltaire's references to Jews and Judaism are derisive,” writes Frank E. Manuel inThe Broken Staff-Judaism Through Christian Eyes (Cambridge, Mass., 1992, pp. 196–200) shares the conventional view that Voltaire attacked Judaism in order to demolish the cornerstone of Christianity. He does add one original twist: that Voltaire, in attacking Judaism the father of Christianity and Islam, was also attacking his own father.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See A. AgesThe Image of the Jews and Judaism in the Prelude to the French Enlightenment (Sherbrooke, 1986) for a detailed exploration of this thesis.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    All quotations from Voltaire's correspondence come fromThe Complete Works of Voltaire Correspondence and Related Documents. Institut et Musée Voltaire. Geneva and The Voltaire Foundation, Oxford (1968–1977). The Best. D. designation after each quotation refers to the letter number found in this, Besterman's definitive edition of the Voltaire correspondence. All translations from the French are by the author of this paper.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This is extremely close to the Jews as baccilus, the staple of Nazi anti-Semitism.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Voltaire's sarcasm in matters Biblical has been thoroughly documented. See René Pomeau,Voltaire et la religion (Paris, 1956); A. Ages, “Voltaire, Calmet and the Old Testament”, inStudies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, Vol. 41 (Geneva, 1965).Google Scholar

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© Akadémiai Kiadó 1994

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  • Arnold Ages

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