Hermann Samuel Reimarus, the Jewish priests of the Old Testament and the trope of imposture

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© 2018 International Society for Intellectual History. In recent years, the Radical Enlightenment has been primarily associated with the philosophical criticism of Spinoza and his disciples. But the Radical Enlightenment’s attack on Christianity did not solely hinge on the philosophical grounding of its proponents, let alone the philosophy of the seventeenth-century Dutch savant. Focusing on the German Enlightenment radical Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694–1768), and his criticism of the ancient Jewish priesthood, this essay shows that an equally potent criticism of Christian doctrine targeted its Old Testament foundations, in which Christian theologians had located the prefiguration of the New Covenant. However, not many radical thinkers were equipped to execute such a profound attack, as it required not only an understanding of the subtleties of Christian theology, but also substantial philological training and an intimate knowledge of historical and linguistic scholarship on ancient Israel. This essay explores how Reimarus’s criticisms bridged the Radical Enlightenment and older traditions of Christian humanism and Hebraism within the trope of priestcraft.

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Intellectual History Review

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