Spinoza wrote his Theological-Political Treatise after his Ethics as a kind of explanation, as a defense against attacks against him of heresy, as a demonstration of the philosophical principles in action which he had previously laid out in the highly theoretical Ethics, and – so it has been many times claimed – as to make his views readable to a much wider audience. The result is a highly readable, extended meditation on the history of biblical interpretation. He makes a persuasive case for the total lack of consistency among religious authorities who have laid down the law before, raising questions about their claims to having access to a true or pure understanding. In fact, his expose impresses upon the reader that every attempt at interpretation of the bible will inevitably be political. That is, no matter how well intentioned and how well informed, all attempts at interpreting the bible cannot help but be shaped by the cultural, historical, and political context of the interpretor. Of course, from the very outset of this work, Spinoza makes a concerted effort to show that all claims of prophetic authority are unfounded.
I found it particularly engaging and interesting to watch Spinoza make these incredible daring (for the time) arguments while at the same time always being careful to insist that he is a deeply religious person and that this work is — and all his works are — neither scandalous nor subversive. There are times when it seems like he is engaged in defensive maneuvers to save his life, and other times when his equivocal positioning seems a virtuoso act of rhetorical fencing.
This particular edition comes with Cambridge’s usual high quality scholarly reference material throughout.