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  • Aliquid remanet:What Are We to Do with Spinoza's Compendium of Hebrew Grammar?

In this paper, I consider the place of Spinoza's Compendium of Hebrew Grammar within his oeuvre and survey its fate among the editions and translations of his works. I hope thereby to show that it should be included among any edition of his "collected writings."


Spinoza, Hebrew, Compendium of Hebrew Grammar, language

Good things come to those who wait. In this case, the waiting period was just a bit shy of the amount of time that the ancient Israelites had to spend in the desert before entering the Promised Land. But now, over thirty years after the appearance of the first volume of Edwin Curley's English edition of the "collected works" of Spinoza—and almost fifty years since the signing of the original contract with Princeton University Press—we have been magnificently rewarded. Volume 2 is, like its predecessor, a major scholarly achievement; something for which we should all be grateful.1 The second volume, which contains the Theological-Political Treatise, the Political Treatise, and the remainder of the correspondence, from September 1665 until the philosopher's death in 1677, is up to the same extraordinarily high and exacting standards as the first. It is both a beautiful translation and superb commentary. The editorial prefaces and the notes are rich with textual and historical information and philosophical insights. Curley also takes the trouble to alert the reader to past and ongoing debates in the Spinoza literature. Taken together, the two volumes of The Collected Works of Spinoza do not simply represent improved translations to supplant the long standard—and long outdated—translations by R. H. M. Elwes (first published in 1884).2 They are major [End Page 155] works of interpretive scholarship in their own right, the product of a long career spent thinking and writing about Spinoza (and other early modern figures who played an essential role in his philosophical development, such as Hobbes and Descartes). Spinoza specialists and scholars of early modern philosophy generally should celebrate the appearance of volume 2, as should lay readers who desire an eminently readable and expertly annotated edition of Spinoza's political and religious writings.

With the conclusion of such a great and monumental project, then, it may seem a bit churlish to kvetch. But while I stand in awe of Curley's achievement, that is precisely what I am going to do. For despite the wealth of material contained in the two volumes, something is missing. No, I am not referring to the treatise on the rainbow, nor to the work titled "Calculation of Chances"—spurious writings that Carl Gebhardt included in his long-standard critical edition of Spinoza's writings, the Spinoza Opera (4 vols., 1925), and that have sometimes been attributed to Spinoza but that are now almost universally rejected by scholars.3 Rather, I am talking about the Compendium of Hebrew Grammar (Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraea), a treatise that we know was indeed written by Spinoza, since the friends who brought out his unpublished writings just after his death, in simultaneous Latin and Dutch editions, tell us as much in their Admonitio Ad Lectorem to the Compendium in the Opera Posthuma:

The Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae Compendium which is here offered to you, kind reader, the author undertook to write at the request of certain of his friends who were diligently studying the Sacred Language, insofar as they recognized him rightly as someone who had been immersed in it from his earliest youth, was diligently devoted to it for many years afterward, and had achieved a complete understanding of the innermost essence of the language.

(G I.286)

Interestingly, these same friends—Lodewijk Meijer, Jarig Jellesz, Georg Herman Schuller, Pieter van Gent, Jan Rieuwertsz, Jan Hendriksz Glazemaker, and Johannes Bouwmeester—included the Compendium in the Latin Opera Posthuma but not the Dutch Nagelate Schriften. This was not due to their anticipation of a lack of interest for the Compendium. Rather, as Jellesz tells us in his preface to the Nagelate Schriften, they decided not to publish a Dutch version of the Hebrew Grammar because "men seldom achieve a knowledge of Hebrew before they have become skilled in the Latin language."4 In other words, anyone who is going to study Hebrew will already know Latin, so there is no point in going to the trouble of publishing a Dutch translation as well.

Let me begin by filling in some of the background for what Spinoza's friends say in their admonitio.

Spinoza undertook to compose a grammar for the Hebrew language probably in late 1674 or early 1675 at the latest, although he may actually have begun it some years before this.5 This work would have coincided with his writing of the Political [End Page 156] Treatise, which was left unfinished at his death, and, very likely, his continued work on the manuscript of the Ethics. He was also at the time putting together post-publication adnotationes meant to clarify various passages in the Theological-Political Treatise, which had been published in 1670.

In the Theological-Political Treatise (TTP), Spinoza insists on the necessity of a knowledge of Hebrew for interpreting Scripture properly.

Because all the writers, both of the Old Testament and the New, were Hebrews, it's certain that the History of the Hebrew language is necessary above all others, not only for understanding the books of the Old Testament, which were written in this language, but also for understanding those of the New. For though they've been circulated in other languages, nevertheless they are expressed in a Hebrew manner.

(TTP VII, G III.100/C II.173)

Unfortunately, he notes, the people who actually used Hebrew on an everyday basis have left us no information concerning the basic principles of their language: "Those who spoke and wrote Hebrew in ancient times left nothing to posterity regarding its foundations and teaching. Or at least we have nothing from them: no dictionary, no grammar, no rhetoric" (TTP VII, G III.106/C II.180). Thus, there are certain irremediable problems that will necessarily plague any latter-day account of the Hebrew language and any efforts to interpret ancient Hebrew texts. For instance, we lack the words that the ancient Hebrews used for various foods, animals and other mundane items, as well as numerous idioms and modes of speech "peculiar to the Hebrew nation." These and many other features of the Hebrew language "have been consigned to oblivion by the ravages of time." The best that can be done now is to try to reconstruct the elements and rules of ancient Hebrew from what is extant in their literature.

However, Spinoza insists, the Hebrew grammars available in his time, composed in the High Middle Ages and later, all treat Hebrew in a very limited manner: as a "sacred tongue," a holy language. He means by this that they regard Hebrew as the special language only of divine Scripture. Spinoza proposes, on the other hand, to write a guide to Hebrew as a natural language, which, he argues, it surely is: "There are many who have written a grammar of the Scriptures, but none who have written a grammar of the Hebrew language" (G I.310). If the Bible is, as Spinoza argues in the TTP, a work of human hands, composed over time in the natural way in which all books are produced, then its language should be understood not as the supernatural language of some transcendent deity but as the mundane, lived language of a specific people and historical linguistic community. As Scripture is just another human text, so is Hebrew just another human tongue.

Such an authentic understanding of the Hebrew in which Scripture was written does important exegetical work. Spinoza says, in chapter 7 of the TTP, that "the history of the Hebrew language is necessary, above all others, not only for understanding the books of the Old Testament, which were written in this language, but also for understanding those of the New. For although they've been circulated in other languages, nevertheless they [the books of the New Testament] are expressed in a Hebew manner" (TTP VII, G III.100/C II.173). It is not just about being able to read the words on the Biblical page. Spinoza claims in the TTP that the interpretation of Scripture requires not only a technical knowledge of its [End Page 157] language—the aleph-bet, its vocabulary, its rules etc.—but also a knowledge of the historical and biographical contexts of its composition. That is, one needs to know something about its various authors and their social and cultural backgrounds: "To know which sentences [in Scripture] are put forward as laws and which as moral teachings, it is important to know the life, character, and concerns of the author. The better we know someone's spirit and mentality, the more easily we can explain his words" (TTP VII, G III.101–2/C II.175). And, presumably, knowing an individual's or community's "spirit and mentality" requires a familiarity with their language as a spoken and written medium of communication, that is, with their use of words not just in high literary production but in everyday life. Grammars that treat Hebrew only as a sacred language cannot meet this task. In this regard, it is interesting to note that throughout the Compendium, Spinoza refers not only to the "Hebrew language [lingua Hebraea]," but to linguistic practices "among the Hebrews [apud Hebraeos]." For example, we are told that "among the Latins speech is divided into eight parts, but it is doubtful if among the Hebrews it is divided into so many parts," and "the mode which the Latins call infinitive is among the Hebrews a pure unadulterated noun" (G I.303). Moreover, the Hebrews "divide all names of things into masculines and feminines." It is as if Spinoza is engaged in a cultural archaeological study by way of language. Spinoza regards language as a product of the imagination and an example of the "first kind of knowledge;" it is deeply reflective of an individual's and a culture's causal/durational relationship to nature. Thus, Spinoza believes the study of a lived language can tell us something about a culture's mentalité, its itemizing and classification of things grounded in everyday experience.6 For this reason, certain aspects of the ancient Hebrews' language are supposed to be indicative of something deeper about the way in which they looked at the world—such as the fact that they especially "are accustomed to grant all things human attributes, like the earth hears, is attentive, etc." (G I.304).

Spinoza's goal in the Compendium of Hebrew Grammar, then, is to provide a kind of secularization and even reanimation of Hebrew by reconstructing its rules and practices not as a "Holy Tongue" but as a living natural language. His treatise is, he says, a work "for those who desire to speak Hebrew and not just chant it" (G I.300). It will thereby, more than other grammars, aid us in our attempts to uncover Scripture's meanings—what its authors meant to convey.

Spinoza intended the Compendium primarily for the private use of his friends, the circle of followers (mainly in Amsterdam) who were devoted to studying his writings and who met regularly to discuss them. It was, as the admonitio tells us, at their request that Spinoza began writing the grammar. Perhaps these friends, most of whom were either members of dissident Reformed sects (such as the Collegiants) or freethinkers who had little to do with any kind of organized religion, were inspired by his call in the TTP to interpret Scripture "from Scripture alone." Or maybe they were preparing themselves to defend Spinoza's account of Scripture from the many attacks against the TTP. Either way, they asked their Jewish mentor [End Page 158] in all things philosophical to provide them with some kind of initiation into the rudiments of Hebrew to help them in their study. There were several manuscript copies of the Compendium circulating among the Amsterdam group. We do not know whether Spinoza intended the work ultimately to be published, although in the Preface to the Opera Posthuma Jellesz7 claims that Spinoza had always intended to present his Hebrew grammar "demonstrated in the geometric manner," just like the Ethics.8 So perhaps some revision as preparation for publication was indeed envisioned by Spinoza, since the extant text is certainly not in more geometrico.

The Compendium was supposed to contain two parts.9 Part One, of which thirty-three chapters were completed, would present the basic elements of Hebrew: aleph-bet, vocalization, and the principles governing Hebrew nouns and their declensions, verbs and their conjugations, adjectives, prepositions, and other parts of speech. Here Spinoza could begin clearing up some of the more tractable problems confronting those who wished to study Scripture that he had pointed out in the TTP, such as possible confusions arising from the similarities among some Hebrew letters and the difficulties attending vocalization, punctuation, and accentuation. Part Two, which as far as we know Spinoza never began, was supposed to present the rules of Hebrew syntax so one could construct proper sentences.

We have no idea as to how helpful Spinoza's friends found his guide to Hebrew. It is, as Hebrew grammars go, an idiosyncratic work. It is written in Latin, like many Hebrew grammars of the time. Spinoza also uses Latin as his grammatical model and thus forces Hebrew into the paradigm patterns of that classical language.10 Thus, Hebrew nouns are said to decline into six cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, and vocative. For example, the "dative" case of the noun inline graphic ("word" or "thing") is said to be inline graphic (which is, in fact, the noun compounded with the prepositional prefix signifying "to" or "for"). Perhaps Spinoza thought this mode of presentation would make it more accessible to gentile readers like his friends, most of whom were educated in and comfortable with Latin. Still, Spinoza's Hebrew grammar is a dense and difficult work; as he himself says, it is not a work suitable for rank beginners11—which is a little odd, since, at least with respect to Hebrew, that is precisely what his friends were.

Spinoza did, of course, have other options for helping his friends besides taking time away from writing his Political Treatise to engage in the laborious task of a detailed Hebrew grammar. He could have pointed them to any number of available [End Page 159] works. Taking our cue from Spinoza's own library, he himself owned three Hebrew grammars, two of which were in Latin: Johannes Buxtorf's Thesaurus grammaticus linguae santae Hebraeae (1629), and Eliyahu Levita's Grammatica Hebraea (1543), which was written in both Latin and Hebrew, on facing pages. He also owned a copy of Moses Kimchi's Sefer Diqduq (1519).12

There were also by mid-century a number of homegrown Hebrew grammars circulating within Spinoza's own Portuguese-Jewish community of Amsterdam.13 They had been composed by some of the community's leading rabbis. Spinoza himself was probably taught Hebrew by Menasseh ben Israel when this rabbi was teaching in the congregation's elementary school, and so was likely familiar with Menasseh's grammar book, Safah Berurah. Menasseh began this grammar, writing in both Portuguese and Hebrew, in the 1620s when he was just a teenager and completed it in 1631,14 before Spinoza was born. The manuscript, Menasseh says, circulated around the congregation, and he presumably used it for teaching Hebrew in the Talmud Torah school. He intended eventually to print it, although his mission to England for the readmission of the Jews interrupted any such plan.15

Spinoza would likely also have known Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca's Melekhet ha-Diqduq, written in Hebrew. Aboab, who, until his departure in 1641 to serve as the rabbi for the Jewish community in Recife, Brazil, also taught Hebrew in the school that Spinoza attended, apparently composed his grammar early in his Brazilian sojourn to use in his teaching there. Spinoza would therefore not have known it as a student, although he certainly could have obtained a copy as an adult. Neither of these Hebrew grammars from the Amsterdam Sephardim was ever published, although we know there were many manuscript copies of each (some of which are still extant).16 Yet another Hebrew grammar by one of the Amsterdam rabbis, Moses Rephael d'Aguilar's Epitome da Gramatica Hebrayca—written in Portuguese and, as stated in the subtitle, "for use in schools"—was published in 1659, after Spinoza's excommunication from the community; it would be surprising if Spinoza was not at least aware of it. Finally, there was the Hebrew grammar written by Isaac Uziel, one of the earliest rabbis of the Amsterdam Portuguese-Jewish community. He was, in fact, the one who taught "Hebrew letters" to Menasseh,17 and Menasseh honored Uziel by printing his old teacher's grammar, titled Ma'aneh lashon, in 1627. In other words, practically every rabbi among the Amsterdam Sephardim in the first half of the seventeenth century composed a Hebrew grammar,18 with [End Page 160] the notable exception of the man who would become the chief rabbi in 1639 with the union of the original three congregations, Saul Levi Mortera.19

However, rather than directing his gentile friends to any of the already existing Hebrew grammars written in Latin—Buxtorf's or Levia's, for instance—Spinoza went to the trouble to write his own, and for just the reasons I mention above. A knowledge of Hebrew is essential for understanding Scripture, and Spinoza's friends wanted to study Scripture just as Spinoza himself prescribed it should be studied. But why must it be presented as a language to be spoken rather than just read? His friends were certainly not going to run their discussion group in Hebrew. However, as we have seen, Spinoza regarded the other grammars written in Latin as inadequate. They approached Hebrew as the holy language of Scripture, whereas Spinoza wanted to approach it as the living language of a linguistic and cultural community, since that kind of understanding of Hebrew is what is essential for truly understanding Scripture.

We know that in composing his Hebrew grammar, Spinoza did at least avail himself of some of the grammars with which he was familiar. He explicitly cites the grammar of Moses Kimchi that he owned, as well as one by Abraham ben Meir Balmes (presumably the Mikneh Avram, published in a bilingual Hebrew and Latin edition in Venice in 1523), which was not in his library.20 It would be surprising if he did not also consult those grammars composed by the rabbis who had first taught him Hebrew. In this regard, what is interesting about the grammar composed by Menasseh is that it also uses the Latin paradigm for organizing the presentation of Hebrew. Thus, Menasseh fits the declensions of the noun into the nominative, accusative, dative, ablative and vocative cases, just as Spinoza will do several decades later.21

As I have mentioned, Spinoza's Compendium of Hebrew Grammar was first published in 1677, in the Latin Opera Posthuma. The Latin text would not be published again until 1803, in Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob Paulus's edition of Spinoza's works, the Opera quae supersunt omnia (2 vols., Jena). Not being a work of philosophy per se, it is absent from August Friedrich Gfrörer's collection of Spinoza's Opera philosophica omnia of 1830–31 (Stuttgart). It is back in place, however, by 1844, in volume 2 of Karl Hermann Brüder's edition of Spinoza's Opera quae supersunt omnia (3 vols., Leipzig); missing again in Hugo Ginsberg's edition of the Opera philosophica of 1874–82 (Berlin/Leipzig/Heidelberg); reappearing in 1882–83, in Land and Van Vloten's Benedicti de Spinoza Opera quotquot reperta sunt (2 vols., The Hague); and then at home for good in Gebhardt's Spinoza Opera of 1925. A volume of the new bilingual edition of Spinoza's complete works currently under production by the Groupe de Recherches Spinozistes will be devoted to the Compendium and prepared by Omero Proietti. [End Page 161]

I should note, incidentally, that the Compendium almost did not make it into the Opera Posthuma! It clearly was an afterthought. It appears in the first edition not simply at the end of the volume, but after an index for the previous six hundred and fourteen pages and with its own pagination starting at page 1. It seems clear that the original plan for the Opera Posthuma did not include the Hebrew Grammar and that the work was printed separately and added at the last moment.22

The Hebrew Grammar would not appear in any language other than Latin until 1905, when a Hebrew translation was published in Krakow by Solomon Rubin,23 a Hebraist and Spinoza aficionado from Galicia. Rubin also translated Spinoza's Ethics into Hebrew in 1885, under the title Heker Eloah 'im Torat ha-Adam (Investigation of God with the Wisdom of Man), and wrote a treatise on Spinoza and Maimonides, as well as a summary of Spinoza's philosophy titled Moreh Nevukhim ha-Kadosh (The Holy Guide of the Perplexed). As far as I can determine, there were no other translations in any language until a 1962 translation into English by Maurice Bloom.24 Bloom's translation is also included in the edition of Spinoza's Complete Works published by Hackett in 2002.25

The French editors and translators of the Pleiade edition of Spinoza's Oeuvres complètes, published in 1955,26 did not see fit to include the Hebrew Grammar, but a French translation did appear in 1968, by Joël Askénazi and Jocelyn Askénazi-Gerson (who were encouraged, they tell us, by no less than Ferdinand Alquié).27 The grammar appeared in Italian in the Tutte le opere of 2010,28 and again in 2013 in a monograph edition by Pina Totaro and Massimo Gargiulo.29 And while it was not included in the Obras Completas published in 1966,30 a Spanish translation did appear in 2005.31 There has never been a German translation, not even in the seven volume Sämtliche Werke published in 1982 (which, incidentally, does include the treatises on the rainbow and the calculation of chances).32 There has yet to be a Dutch translation.

Curley decided not to include the Hebrew Grammar in this first edition of the second volume of what is now and likely to remain for a long time the standard English translation of Spinoza's writings. He says that "it is hard for me to believe that many people will want to read a complete translation of that work, much of which is devoted to laying out the conjugation of Hebrew verbs." He adds, however, that "there are some passages in it which seem to me of genuine philosophical interest" (C II.xvii).

So now the question is, are there good substantive reasons why the Hebrew Grammar should have been included in volume 2, aside from the trivial reason [End Page 162] that it is among Spinoza's "collected works"? Let me break this question down into two sub-questions: one dealing with the work's potential philosophical interest, and one dealing with its interest for other domains.

1. Is the Hebrew Grammar of philosophical interest? One way to address this question is to ask whether it bears any significant relationship to the major themes of Spinoza's mature philosophical treatises?33

Some scholars have argued that Spinoza's metaphysical views in the Ethics do indeed inform and are illuminated by the Hebrew Grammar. Or, as Ze'ev Levy puts it, "the Hebrew Grammar fits organically into his other philosophical writings, and supports the methodological and fundamental tendency that characterizes his two principal books," namely, the Ethics and the Theological-Political Treatise.34 Levy insists that what he calls Spinoza's "rationalism" is expressed not only in his metaphysics and epistemology, but in "additional areas of his philosophical thought,"35 by which Levy means his theory of language. Spinoza's goal in the Compendium, he claims, is to "prove" that the absolute determinism that reigns in Nature reigns in the Hebrew language as well, and perhaps in other languages. After all, human language is no less a work of Nature than anything else. And so just as Nature itself—including the causal relations between bodies under the principles of Extension and motion and rest, and the logico-causal relations between ideas under the principles of Thought—is a law-governed system that admits no exceptions and no contingency and can therefore be understood more geometrico, so likewise (as Levy reads Spinoza) the Hebrew language is a matter of "linguistic and grammatical normativity," a rule-bound system in which there is no room for contingency or irregularity.

It has also been suggested that Spinoza's conception of Hebrew grammar reflects not only the formal determinism of his metaphysics, but its substantive content as well. Spinoza's explanation of what a noun is and what things fall under that grammatical class is taken to be an especially important piece of evidence in this regard. The relationship between the elements of grammar and the categories of Spinoza's metaphysics in the following passage from the Compendium is obvious to anyone who has studied the Ethics:

I shall now explain what I understand by a noun. By a noun I understand a word by which we signify or indicate something that falls under the intellect. However, among things that fall under the intellect there can be either things and attributes; modes and relations of things; or actions, and modes and relations of actions.

(G I.303)

The primacy of the noun in Spinoza's account of Hebrew has been taken to be a projection in the realm of language of the primacy of substance in his metaphysics. Warren Zev Harvey, for instance, claims that "there are striking parallels between what Spinoza writes in his Compendium about Hebrew and what he writes in his Ethics about God or Nature."36 Just as God or Nature plays the foundational role [End Page 163] of the unique substance in Spinoza's metaphysics, so the substantive noun is the foundation for all other aspects of Hebrew grammar. Indeed, Harvey claims, Spinoza was a "noun-intoxicated grammarian," since for him all Hebrew words "are genera of nouns"—that is, they all name either things, attributes of things, or modes of things. All Hebrew words, on this reading, come back to nouns, suggestive of the way in which all things are in substance/God/Nature (as we know from Ethics, Part I, proposition 15).

Incidentally, with this passage in which Spinoza explains the noun, we see the deficiency of Bloom's translation and the need for a better one. The Latin text says "per nomen intelligo vocem qua aliquid quod sub intellectum cadit significamus vel indicamus." Bloom translates this rather pedestrianly as, "By a noun I understand a word by which we signify or indicate something that is understood" (emphasis added).37 What thereby gets lost is the unmistakable Spinozistic echo of Ethics, Part One, proposition 16, where Spinoza says that "from the necessity of the divine nature there must follow infinitely many things in infinitely many modes, (i.e., everything which can fall under an infinite intellect [omnia quae sub intellectum infinitum cadere possunt])."38

I have to confess that I am somewhat skeptical of these attempts to find the metaphysics of the Ethics reflected in Spinoza's account of Hebrew grammar. As suggestive as they are, they seem rather thin and contrived. But I will allow that the jury is still out on that question. Regardless, there are still good philosophical reasons—both with regard to the themes of his major works and independent of these—for studying the Hebrew Grammar besides its alleged relationship with Spinoza's metaphysical and epistemological views in the Ethics.

First, the Compendium illuminates certain central elements of the TTP. There is the obvious connection with Spinoza's account in the TTP of the origins and interpretation of Scripture and the necessity for knowing the language of the ancient Hebrews, as mentioned above. In the Compendium, Spinoza shows us what knowing the true language of the ancient Hebrews involves and to what degree this is now possible. His proffered analysis of Hebrew as a living tongue illustrates what exactly he means when he says in the TTP that the interpretation of Scripture must include a knowledge of "the nature and properties of the language in which the books of Scripture were written, and which their Authors were accustomed to speak" (TTP VII, G III.99–100/C II.173). Moreover, in chapter 2 of the Compendium, he uses the fact that in Scripture some letters are often interchangeable without any difference in pronunciation—such as an aleph for an ayin, or a samekh for a sin—to provide further evidence for his claim in the TTP that the Bible is a very human and historically-embedded document. After all, he notes, such peculiarities of Hebrew orthography can be explained only by the fact that "the Scriptures were written by men of various dialects" and who came from different tribes. [End Page 164]

Second, any investigation of Spinoza as a philosopher of language will have to take account of the Compendium.39 Here we find his conception of the role that rules play in language, as well as, as we have seen, his view that understanding a language as a medium of mundane communication can tell us much about the "character and concerns," the "spirit and mentality," of its users. For example, we learn something about a people if all the nouns in their language are distinguished by gender, namely, that they are given to anthropomorphizing the world around them. And then there is the wonderful claim that Spinoza offers right at the beginning of the treatise, that "among the Hebrews vowels are called the souls of letters [literarum animae], and letters without vowels are bodies without souls" (G I.287), a remark that Joël Askénazi regards as of "immense portée."40 Spinoza clearly regards such linguistic phenomena as potentially informative about the Hebrews' metaphysical worldview.

These are, of course, only suggestions, and I cannot follow up on any of them here. As I say, the jury really is still out on whether Spinoza's Hebrew Grammar can add much to our understanding of his philosophy. But the thing is, it is certainly worth investigating, as some scholars have done.

2. Let me now turn, very briefly, to the second question, namely, the interest that the Hebrew Grammar might hold for other domains besides philosophy. It should be clear that there are indeed non-philosophical reasons for including the Compendium in what is to be the standard English edition of Spinoza's writings. After all, Spinoza has been important to a variety of academic constituencies. This is most obviously the case with his political and religious thought, but of course Spinoza also has a significant place in both Bible studies and Hebraic studies.

Along with the TTP, the Compendium is doubtlessly of great importance in the study of Spinoza from the perspective of Biblical scholarship and hermeneutics. As we have seen, it presents his account of the language in which Scripture was written, and consequently—given his views on the relationship between language and "mentality"—his insights into the culture from which the Biblical texts derived.

Spinoza also holds a noteworthy position in the history of the linguistic and philological study of Hebrew.41 Spinoza regards some of his observations in the Compendium as representing original contributions to a deep understanding of the Hebrew language and its development. There is, for example, his remark in chapter 4 that the "accents"—by which he means not the vowel signs (niqqudim) but the cantillation marks—were introduced by the Pharisees to govern the reading of Torah every Sabbath, "so that it not be read too rapidly (as is usually done in the repetition of prayers)." He regards this as an improved explanation for "so great a number of accents" than the view that they were introduced "not only for the raising and the lowering of the voice and to adorn speech but also to indicate animated expression."42 Moreover, Spinoza's claim in chapter 5 that "all [End Page 165] Hebrew words, except for a few interjections and conjunctions and one or two particles, have the force and properties of nouns" (G I. 303)—whether or not it has any credibility—goes beyond anything one might expect in an introductory grammar book. What Spinoza takes himself to be offering in the Compendium is a rather deep analysis of the nature of Hebrew.

The absence of the Compendium of Hebrew Grammar should not distract us from the great value of volume 2 of Curley's edition. Beyond the care and excellence of the translation and the wealth of information in the scholarly apparatus, there is the fact that Spinoza scholars, who have long been able uniformly to cite volume 1 for English texts of the Ethics and his other metaphysical, epistemological and moral writings, and his early correspondence, no longer need to refer to diverse (and sometimes conflicting) translations of the TTP, the Political Treatise, and the letters post-1665.

It is certainly not my intention to shame Curley for not including the Compendium. I have too much respect, even awe, for what he has done. He says, in fact, that he would have included the Hebrew Grammar—or, at least, parts of it—"if I had believed that the benefits in terms of understanding Spinoza's thoughts about language, outweighed the costs of delaying further the publication of works I think are vastly more important" (C II.xvii). As for me, if the choice is between having volume 2 of his magnificent Spinoza translations now without the Compendium, and waiting another five years or so for a volume that includes it, I must opt for immediate gratification. Spinoza says that "from the guidance of reason we want a greater future good in preference to a lesser present one" (Ethics IVp66). I am afraid that in this case I fall far short of the person guided by reason.43

Steven Nadler

Steven Nadler is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

bibliography and abbreviations

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———. "Some Seventeenth-Century Grammatical Descriptions of Hebrew." Histoire, Epistémologie, Langage 12 (1990): 77–101. [End Page 166]
———. "Spinoza and Grammatical Tradition." Mededelingen vanwege het Spinozahuis 49 (1986).
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———. De Termino Vitae. Amsterdam: Menasseh ben Israel, 1639.
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1. Benedictus Spinoza, The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. II.

2. Of course, volume I of Curley's translation, published in 1985, long ago replaced the edition of R. W. Elwes as the standard translation for the works therein: the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, the Parts One and Two of Descartes's Principles of Philosophy (with the appended Metaphysical Thoughts), the Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being, the Ethics, and the correspondence from 1661 to 1665.

3. The lone holdout who insists on attributing these two works to Spinoza is Michael J. Petry, in his Spinoza's Algebraic Calculation. For a critique of Petry's argument, see Johannes J. V. M. De Vet, "Spinoza's Authorship." See also De Vet, "Was Spinoza de Auteur?"

4. "Voorreeden," in Spinoza, De Nagelate Schriften van B.D.S., unpaginated but on xli.

5. Omero Proietti argues that the composition of the Compendium should be placed somewhere between 1670 and 1675; see "Il 'Satyricon' di Petronio e la datazione della 'Grammatica Ebraica' Spinoziana."

6. As David Savan puts it, for Spinoza "words arise from experience and refer to experience"; see his "Spinoza and Language," 61. Savan's point is that, on Spinoza's principles, ordinary language is inadequate for the communication of philosophical truth, although it does serve to express a confused understanding of things according to how one's body is affected by things in the world.

7. That it is "certain" that Jellesz (and not Meijer, as has often been claimed) was the author of the Preface to the Latin edition has been well argued for by Fokke Akkerman, "The Preface to Spinoza's Posthumous Works," 205–11. Meijer, on the other hand, was probably the one charged with translating the Dutch text by Jellesz into Latin.

8. "Prefatio" in Spinoza, Opera Posthuma, unpaginated but on xxxiv.

9. According to Jellesz; see "Prefatio" in Spinoza, Opera Posthuma, unpaginated but on xxxiv.

10. This was not, in fact, uncommon. As Anthony J. Klijnsmit notes, grammarians in this period "made use of the model of language description which was then considered as scientific, i.e., the grammatical description of Latin and Greek"; see "Amsterdam Sephardim and Hebrew Grammar in the Seventeenth Century," 144. Menasseh ben Israel, one of the rabbi's of the Portuguese-Jewish community of Amsterdam (and probably Spinoza's Hebrew teacher), also used the Latin paradigm in his Hebrew grammar.

11. See, for example, his remark at the beginning of ch. 13 (G I.343): "iis tantum qui in aliis linguis versati sunt scribo."

12. For an annotated inventory of Spinoza's library, see A. J. Servaas Van Rooijen, Inventaire.

13. For a discussion of these grammars from within the Amsterdam Portuguese-Jewish community, see Klijnsmit, "Amsterdam Sephardim and Hebrew Grammar in the Seventeenth Century."

14. Or so Menasseh tells us in his prefatory letters to the reader (Al Lector) in Conciliador, Part One, unpaginated but vi, and Part Two, unpaginated but iv.

15. It seems that the work was in fact printed by Menasseh, possibly in 1631, because it is listed in a sales catalogue published by Menasseh's son Samuel in 1652.

16. A seventeenth-century manuscript of Menasseh's grammar has been in the Ets Haim library of the Portuguese-Jewish Community of Amsterdam, Livraria Montezinos, as were two eighteenth-century manuscript copies of Aboab's grammar. Adri Offenberg details the discovery of two other seventeenth-century manuscripts of Menasseh's and Aboab's grammars, bound together, in "A Mid-Seventeenth-Century Manuscript." See also Emile Schrijver, "Twee Portugees-joodse grammatica's."

17. See Menasseh ben Israel, De Termino Vitae, 236.

18. Given these Hebrew grammars written by the rabbis of Spinoza's own community, Philippe Cassuto's claim that Spinoza's Hebrew Grammar was "la seule grammaire de l'hébreu écrite par un juif au dix-septième siècle" is wrong ("Le Compendium grammatices linguae hebraeae," 186).

19. As far as we know, and contrary to what Michael Morgan says in his introduction to the Hebrew Grammar in Spinoza, Complete Works (584), Mortera did not compose a grammar.

20. Spinoza mentions Balmes in ch. 3 and Moses Kimchi in ch. 18 of the Hebrew Grammar.

21. For a discussion of Menasseh's and d'Aguilar's grammars, see Anthony J. Klijnsmit, "Some Seventeenth-Century Grammatical Descriptions of Hebrew," especially 81–85, and "Amsterdam Sephardim and Hebrew Grammar in the Seventeenth Century." Morgan suggests that Spinoza was "indebted to the work of medieval commentators like David Kimchi and recent grammarians like Buxtorf" ("Introduction" to the Hebrew Grammar in Spinoza, Complete Works, 584.) Spinoza did not own a copy of David Kimchi's grammar, however, although he did own and cite the grammar by David's brother Moses; of course, this is not evidence that he did not consult David's grammar as well.

22. My thanks to Pina Totaro for bringing this to my attention.

23. Diqduq sefat 'ever.

24. Spinoza, Hebrew Grammar.

25. Spinoza, Complete Works, 587–675.

26. Spinoza, Oeuvres complètes.

27. Spinoza, Abrégé de grammaire Hébraïque.

28. Spinoza, Tutte le opere, 2289–481.

29. Spinoza, Compendio di Grammatica Della Lingua Ebraica.

30. Spinoza, Obras completas.

31. Spinoza, Compendio de gramática de la lengua hebrea.

32. Spinoza, Sämtliche Werke.

33. Pina Totaro notes that the Hebrew Grammar has been dismissed by many commentators as being "privi di rilievo filosofico," but insists that "in realta, la stesura da parte di Spinoza di una grammatica ebraica scritta in latino si colloca all'interno di un ampio disegno filosofico"; see her "Introduzione" to Spinoza, Compendio di Grammatica Della Lingua Ebraica, 4.

34. "The Problem of Normativity in Spinoza's 'Hebrew Grammar,'" 156.

35. "The Problem of Normativity in Spinoza's 'Hebrew Grammar,'" 158.

36. "Spinoza's Metaphysical Hebraism," 110.

37. Spinoza, Complete Works, 600.

38. Just a few lines down is another example of the need for an improved translation. Where Spinoza says "Nam inline graphic ex. gr. Nomen viri est," Bloom renders as "For example, the noun inline graphic is a man."

39. See, for example, J. M. Hillesum, "De Spinozistische Spraakkunst," and Nathan Porges, "Spinoza's Compendium der hebraeischen Grammatik." There are also the more recent studies by Savan, "Spinoza and Language"; Luc Bove, "La théorie du langage chez Spinoza"; and Lorenzo Vinciguerra, "Spinoza et le problème du langage."

40. "Introduction", in Spinoza, Abrégé de grammaire Hébraique, 16.

41. See, for example, Philippe Cassuto, Spinoza Hébraïsant; Jacob Gruntfest, "Spinoza as a Linguist"; and Anthony J. Klijnsmit, "Spinoza and Grammatical Tradition."

42. G I.294–5.

43. My thanks to Ed Curley, Pina Totaro, Dan Garber, and Jack Zupko for comments on an earlier draft of this essay. A slightly different version of this essay was delivered at an "Author Meets Critics" session devoted to volume two of Curley's The Collected Works of Spinoza, at the Central Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association (Kansas City, March, 2017).

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