The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate. Hegel 1798

§i. The Spirit of Judaism

With Abraham, the true progenitor of the Jews, the history of this people begins, i.e., his spirit is the unity, the soul, regulating the entire fate of his posterity. This spirit appears in a difference guise after every one of its battles against different forces of after becoming sullied by adopting an alien nature as a result of succumbing to might or seduction. Thus it appears in a different form either as arms and conflict or else as submission to the fetters of the stronger; this latter form is called “fate.”

Of the course taken by the development of the human race before Abraham, of this important period in which men strove by various routes to revert from barbarism, which followed the loss of the state of nature, to the unity[1] which had been broken, of this course only a few dim traces have been preserved to us. The impression made on men’s hearts by the flood in the time of Noah must have been a deep distraction and it must have caused the most prodigious disbelief in nature. Formerly friendly or tranquil, nature now abandoned the equipoise of her elements, now requited the faith the human race had in her with the most destructive, invincible, irresistible hostility; in her fury she spared nothing; she made none of the distinctions which live might have made but poured savage devastation over everything.

Certain phenomena, reactions to the impression derived from this general manslaughter by hostile elements, have been indicated to us by history. If man was to hold out against the outbursts of a nature now hostile, nature had to be mastered; and since the whole can be divided only into idea and reality, so also the supreme unity of mastery lies either in something thought or in something real.[2] It was in a thought-product that Noah built the distracted world together again; his thought-produced ideal he turned into a [real] Being[3] and then set everything else over against it, so that in this opposition realities were reduced to thoughts, i.e., to something mastered. This Being promised him to confine within their limits the elements which were his servants, so that no flood was ever again to destroy mankind. Among living things, things capable of being masted in this way,[4] men were subjected to the law, to the command so to restrain themselves as not to kill one another; to overstep these restraints was to fall under the power of this Being and so to become lifeless. For being mastered in this way man was recompensed by being given mastery over animals; but while this single rending of life – the killing plants and animals – was sanctioned and while enmities [between man and nature] which need made inevitable were turned into a legal mastery, life was yet so far respected that men were prohibited from eating the blood of animals because in it lay the life, the soul, of the animals (Genesis ix. 4).[5]

Per contra (if I may be allowed here to link with the Mosaic chronicles the corresponding exposition which Josephus – Antiquities of the Jews I. 4 – gives of Nimrod’s history), Nimrod placed the unity in man and installed him as the being who was to make the other realities into thoughts, i.e., to kill and master them. He endeavored so far to master nature that it could no longer be dangerous to men. He put himself in a state of defense against it, “a rash man and one boasting in the strength of his arm. In the event of God’s having a mind to overwhelm the world with a flood again, he threatened to neglect no means and no power to make an adequate resistance to Him. For he had resolved to build a tower which was to be far higher than the waves and streams could ever rise and in this way to avenge the downfall of his forefathers” (according to another tale, Eupolemus in Eusebius,[6] the tower was to have been built by the very survivors of the flood.) “He persuaded men that they had acquired all good things for themselves by their own courage and strength; and in this way he altered everything and in a short time founded a despotic tyranny.” He united men after they had become mistrustful, estranged from one another, and now ready to scatter. But the unity he gave them was not a reversion to a cheerful social life in which they trusted nature and one another; he kept them together indeed, but by force. He defended himself against water by walls; he was a hunter and a king. In this battle against need, therefore, the elements, animals, and men had to endure the law of the stronger, though the law of a living being.

Against the hostile power [of nature] Noah saved himself by subjecting both it and himself to something more powerful; Nimrod, by taming it himself. Both made a peace of necessity with the foe and thus perpetuated the hostility. Neither was reconciled with it, unlike a more beautiful[7] pair, Deucalion and Pyrrha, who, after the flood in their time, invited men once again to friendship with the world, to nature, made them forget their need and their hostility in joy and pleasure, made a peace of love, were the progenitors of more beautiful peoples, and made their age the mother of a newborn natural life which maintained its bloom of youth.

Abraham, born in Chaldaca, had in youth already left a fatherland in his father’s company. Now, in the plains of Mesopotamia, he tore himself free altogether from his family as well, in order to be a wholly self-subsistent, independent man, to be an overlord himself. He did this without having been injured or disowned, without the grief which after a wrong or an outrage signifies love’s enduring need, when love, injured indeed but not lost, goes in quest of a new fatherland in order to flourish and enjoy itself there. The first act which made Abraham the progenitor of a nation is a diseverance which snaps the bonds of communal life and love. The entirety of the relationships in which he had hitherto lived with men and nature, these beautiful relationships of his youth (Joshua xxiv. 2),[8] he spurned.

Cadmus, Danaus, etc., had forsaken their fatherland too, but they forsook it in battle; they went in quest of a soil where they would be free and they sought it that they might love. Abraham wanted not to love, wanted to be free by not loving. Those others, in order to live in pure, beautiful, unions, as was no longer given to them in their own land, carried these gods[9] forth with them. Abraham wanted to be free from these very relationships, while the others by their gentle arts and manners won over the less civilized aborigines and intermingled with them to form a happy and gregarious people.

The same spirit which had carried Abraham away from his kin led him through his encounters with foreign peoples during the rest of his life; this was the spirit of self-maintenance in strict opposition to everything – the product of his thought raised to be the unity dominant over the nature which he regarded as infinite and hostile (for the only relationship possible between hostile entities is mastery of one by the other). With his herds Abraham wandered hither and thither over a boundless territory without bringing parts of it any nearer to him by cultivating and improving them. Had he done so, he would have become attached to them and might have adopted them as parts of his world. The land was simply given over to his cattle for grazing. The water slept in deep wells without living movement; digging for it was laborious; it was dearly bought or struggled for, an extorted property, a necessary requirement for him and his cattle. The groves which often gave him coolness and shade he soon left again; in them he had theophanies, appearances of his perfect Object on High, but he did not tarry in them with the love which would have made them worthy of the Divinity and participant in Him. He was a stranger on earth, a stranger to the soil and to men alike. Among men he always was and remained a foreigner, yet not so far removed from them and independent of them that he needed to know nothing of them whatever, to have nothing whatever to do with them. The country was so populated beforehand that in his travels he continually stumbled on men already previously untied in small tribes. He entered into no such ties; he required their corn indeed, yet nevertheless he struggled against his fate, the fate which would have proffered him a stationary communal life with others. He steadily persisted in cutting himself off from others, and he made this conspicuous by a physical peculiarity imposed on himself and his posterity. When surrounded by mightier people, as in Egypt and Gerar, in dealing with kings who intended no evil, he was suspicious and resorted to cunning and duplicities. Where he thought he was the stronger, as in opposing the five kinds, he fell about him with the sword. With others who brought no difficulties on him, he carefully kept his relations on a legal footing. What he needed, he bought; from the good-natured Ephron he absolutely refused to take Sarah’s burial place as a gift. He shrank from relating himself to an equal on a footing of grateful feelings. Even his son he forbade to marry any Canaanish woman but made him take a wife from his kinsfolk, and they lived at a great distance from him.

The whole world Abraham regarded as simply his opposite; if he did not take it to be a nullity, he looked on it as sustained by the God who was alien to it. Nothing in nature was supposed to have any part in God; everything was simply under God’s mastery. Abraham, as the opposite of the whole world, could have had no higher mode of being than that of the other term in the opposition, and thus he likewise was supported by God. Moreover, it was through God alone that Abraham came into a mediate relation with the world, the only kind of link with the world possible for him. His Ideal subjugated the world to him, gave him as much of the world as he needed, and put him in security against the rest. Love alone was beyond his power; even the one love he had, his love for his son, even his hope of posterity – the one mode of extending his being, the one mode of immortality he knew and hoped for – could depress him, trouble his all-exclusive heart and disquiet it to such an extent that even this love he once wished to destroy; and his heart was quieted only through the certainty of the feeling that this love was not so strong as to render him unable to slay his beloved son with his own hand.

Mastery was the only possible relationship in which Abraham could stand to the infinite world opposed to him; but he was unable himself to make this mastery actual, and it therefore remained ceded to his Ideal. He himself also stood under his Ideal’s dominion, but the Idea was present in his mind, he served the Idea, and so he enjoyed his Ideal’s favor;[10] and since its divinity was rooted in his contempt for the whole world, remained its only favorite. Hence Abraham’s God is essentially different from the Lares and the national gods. A family which reverences its Lares, and a nation which reverences its national god, has admittedly also isolated itself, partitioned what is unitary [i.e., human life], and shut others out of its god’s share. But, while doing so, it has conceded the existence of other shares; instead of reserving the immeasurable to itself and banishing others therefrom, it grants to others equal rights with itself; it recognizes the Larges and gods of other as Lares and gods. On the other hand, in the jealous God of Abraham and his posterity there lay the horrible claim that He alone was God and that this nation was the only one to have a god.

But when it was granted to his descendants to attain a condition less sundered from their ideal – when they themselves were powerful enough to actualize their idea of unity – then they exercised their dominion mercilessly with the most revolting and harshest tyranny, and utterly extirpated all life; for it is only over death that unity hovers. Thus the sons of Jacob avenged with satanic atrocity the outraging of their sister even though the Shechemites had tried to make amends with unexampled generosity. Something alien had been mingled with their family, had put itself into connection with them, and so willed to disturb their segregation. Outside the infinite unity in which nothing but they, the favorites, can share, everything is matter (the Gorgon’s head turned everything to stone), a stuff, loveless, with no rights, something accursed which, as soon as they have power enough, they treat as accursed and then assign to its proper place [death] if it attempts to stir.

As Joseph acquired power in Egypt, he introduced the political hierarchy whereby all Egyptians were brought into the same relation to the king as that in which, in Joseph’s Idea, everything stood to his god – i.e., he made his Deity “real.” By means of the corn which they had handed over to him and with which he now fed them during the famine, he acquired all their money, then all their beasts, their horses, their sheep, their goats, their cattle, and their asses, then all the land and their persons; their entire existence he made the king’s property.

To the fate against which Abraham, and hitherto Jacob also, had struggled, i.e., possession of an abiding dwelling place and attachment to a nation, Jacob finally succumbed. This situation he entered contrary to his spirit, through stress of circumstances, and by accident, and, the more this was so, the more hardly must it have pressed upon him and his descendants. The spirit which led them out of this slavery and then organized them into an independent nation works and is matured from this point onward in more situations than those in which it appeared in the [Jewish] families when they were at a still less complex stage, and hence its character becomes more specialized and its results more diverse.

Here, as in what has preceded, we cannot be concerned with the manner in which we might grasp this adventure of Israelite liberation with our intellect. On the contrary, what we have to grasp is the fact that the Jewish spirit acted in this adventure in a manner corresponding to that in which the adventure was present to the Jews in their imagination and lively recollection. When Moses, an isolated enthusiast for the liberation of his people, came to the elders of the Israelites and spoke to them of his project, his divine calling found its legitimation not in a heartfelt hatred of oppression, not in a longing for air and freedom, but in certain tricks with which Moses baffled them and which were performed subsequently with equal skill by Egyptian conjurers. The deeds of Moses and Aaron worked on their brethren precisely as they did on the Egyptians, i.e., as a force, and we see how the latter defended themselves against subjection by just the same means.

The increased hardships consequent upon Moses’ discourse in Pharaoh’s presence did not act as a stronger stimulus to the Jews, but only intensified their sufferings. Against no one were the Jews more enraged than against Moses, whom they cursed (Exodus v. 21, vi. 9).[11] Moses alone takes action. Permission to depart extorts because of the king’s fear. The Jewish faith does not even allow the king to forget his fear of his own accord and rue the decision extorted from him; on the contrary, his words, expressive of his refusal to subject himself to their god, they take to be their god’s doing. For the Jews a great thing was done, but they do not inaugurate it with heroic deeds of their own; it is for them that Egypt suffers the most diverse plagues and misery. Amid general lamentation they withdraw, driven forth by the hapless Egyptians (Exodus xii. 33-34);[12] but they themselves have only the malice the coward feels when his enemy is brought low by someone else’s act, only the consciousness of woe wrought for them, not that of the courage which may still drop a tear for the evil it must inflict. They go unscathed, yet their spirit must exult in all the wailing that was so profitable to them. The Jews vanquish, but they have not battled. The Egyptians are conquered, but not by their enemies; they are conquered (like men murdered in their sleep, or poisoned) by an invisible attack, and the Israelites, with the sign on their houses and the profit which all this misery brings, look like the notorious robbers during the plague as Marscilles.[13] The only act which Moses reserved for the Israelites was, on the evening which he knew to be the last on which they would speak to their neighbors and friends, to borrow with deceit and repay confidence with theft.

It is no wonder that this nation, which in its emancipation bore the most slavelike demeanor, regretted leaving Egypt, wished to return there again whenever difficulty or danger came upon it in the sequel, and thus showed how in its liberation it had been without the soul and the spontaneous need of freedom.

The liberator of his nation was also its lawgiver; this could mean only that the man who had freed it from one yoke had laid on it another. A passive people giving laws to itself would be a contradiction.

The principle of the entire legislation was the spirit inherited from his forefathers, i.e., was the infinite Object, the sum of all truth and all relations, which thus is strictly the sole infinite subject, for this Object can only be called “object” in so far as man with the life given him is presupposed and called the living or the absolute subject. This, so to say, is the sole synthesis; the antitheses are the Jewish nation, on the one hand, and, on the other, the world and all the rest of the human race. These antitheses are the genuine pure objects; i.e., this is what they become in contrast with an existent, an infinite, outside them; they are without intrinsic worth and empty, without life; they are not even something dead – a nullity – yet they are a something only in so far as the infinite Object makes them something, i.e., makes them not something which is, but something made which on its own account has no life, no rights, no love.* Where there is universal enmity, there is nothing left save physical dependence, an animal existence which can be assured only at the expense of all other existence, and which the Jews took as their fief. This exception, this excepted isolated security, follows of necessity from the infinite separation; and this gift, this liberation from the Egyptian slavery, the possession of a land flowing with milk and honey, together with assured food, drink, and progeny, these are the claims which the divine has to veneration; as the title to veneration, so the veneration: the former, relief of distress, the latter, bondage.

The infinite subject had to be invisible, since everything visible is something restricted. Before Moses had his tabernacle, he showed to the Israelites only fire and clouds which kept the eye busy on a vague play of continually changing shapes without fixing it on a [specific] form. An image of God was just stone or wood to them; “it sees not, it hears not,” etc. – with this litany they fancy themselves wonderfully wise; they despite the image because it does not manage them, and they have no inkling of its deification in the enjoyment of beauty or in a lover’s intuition.

Though there was no concrete shape to be an object of religious feeling, devotion and reverence for an invisible object had nonetheless to be given direction and a boundary inclusive of the object. This, Moses provided in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle and the subsequent temple. After Pompey had approached the heart of the temple, the center of adoration, and had hoped to discover in it the root of the national spirit, to find indeed in one central point the life-giving soul of this remarkable people, to gaze on a Being as an object for his devotion, on something significant for his veneration, he might well have been astonished on entering the arcanum to find himself deceived so far as some of his expectations were concerned, and, for the rest, to find himself in an empty room.

Moreover, the nullity of man and the littleness of an existence maintained by favor was to be recalled in every enjoyment, in every human activity. As a sign of God’s right of property and as his share, the tenth of all produce of the ground had to be rendered to him. To him belonged every firstborn, though it might be redeemed. The human body, which was only lent and did not properly belong to them, must be kept clean, just as the servant has to keep clean the livery given to him by his master. Ever uncleanness had to be put right; this meant that the Israelite had to recognize, by sacrificing something or other which he called his own, that to change another’s property was a presumption and an illegality and that he himself owned no property whatever. But what wholly belonged to their God and was sacrosanct to him, e.g., booty and numerous products of conquest, was given to him as his full possession by the fact that it was completely destroyed.

What the Israelitish people was only partially, what it signalized itself as being in general, one of the tribes was completely, namely, a property of its God, though a property which served him.* These servants too, then, were fed entirely by the Lord, were direct keepers of his household, were his sole harvesters in the entire country and his houseservants; they had to uphold his rights and were arranged in a hierarchy from those who performed the most menial services up to the immediate minister of God. The latter was himself the custodian not of the arcanum but only of secret things; and, similarly, the other priests were unable to learn and teach anything but the service. The arcanum itself was something wholly alien, something into which a man could not be initiated; he could only be dependent on it. And the concealment of God in the Holy of Holies had a significance quite different from the arcanum of the Eleusinian gods. From the pictures, feelings, inspiration, and devotion of Elusis, from these revelations of god, no one was excluded; but they might not be spoken of, since words would have desecrated them. But of their objects and actions, of the laws of their service, the Israelites might well chatter (Deuteronomy xxx. 11),[14] for in these there is nothing holy. The holy was always outside them, unseen and unfelt.

The manifestation in connection with the solemn lawgiving on Sinai had so stunned the Jews that they begged Moses to spare them, not to bring them so near to God; let him speak with God alone and then transmit to them God’s commands.

The three great yearly festivals, celebrated for the most part with feasts and dances, are the most human element in Moses’ polity; but the solemnity of every seventh day is very characteristic. To slaves this rest from work must be welcome, a daily of idleness after six days full of labor. But for living men, otherwise free, to keep one day in a complete vacuum, in an inactive unity of spirit, to make the time dedicated to God an empty time, and to let this vacuity return every so often – this could only occur to the legislator of a people for whom the melancholy, unfelt unity is the supreme reality, and who set over against their God his six days’ life in the new life of a world, treat that life as an outgoing foreign to himself, and let him rest thereafter.

In this thoroughgoing passivity there remained to the Jews, beyond the testification of their servitude, nothing save the sheer empty need of maintaining their physical existence and securing it against want. To maintain their life, then, satisfied them; they wished for no more. They had acquired a land to live in, flowing with milk and honey. They now wished, as a nation of settlers and agriculturists, to possess as property the land which their fathers had wished to traverse simply as herdsmen. In that nomadic mode of life the latter could let alone the peoples who were growing up in the country and grouping themselves into towns and who in turn let them graze the untilled land in peace and still respected their graves when they had ceased to wander in the vicinity. When their posterity returned, it was not as nomads like these, for now they were subjected to the fate against which their nomadic ancestors had so long struggled, a struggle and a resistance in the course of which they had only increasingly embittered their own and their national genius. The mode of life of their ancestors they had abandoned, but how could their genius have forsaken them? It must have become all the mightier and more frightful in them, since their altered needs had broken down one main party-wall between their customs and those of other nations, and no power now stood between their union with others except their own hearts. Their necessities made them the enemies of others, but enmity need not have extended beyond what their necessities requires, i.e., beyond the extortion of settlement among the Canaanites. The old difference, that between the life of herdsmen and agriculturists, had now disappeared; but what unites men is their spirit and nothing else, and what now separated the Jews from the Canaanites was their spirit alone. This genius of hatred called upon them utterly to exterminate the old inhabitants. Even here the honor of human nature is still partly preserved in the fact that, even if its innermost spirit is perverted and turned into hatred, human nature still does not wholly disavow its original essence, and its perversion is not wholly consistent, is not carried through to the end. The Israelites still left a multitude of the inhabitants alive, though plundered indeed and enslaved.

Those prevented by death in the wilderness from reaching the promised land had not fulfilled their destiny, the Idea of their existence. Their life was subordinated to an end; it was not self-subsistent sellf-sufficient; and their death therefore could only be regarded as an evil and, since everything stands under a Lord’s decree, only as a punishment.

From military service all were free who had not yet lived in their new-built house, had eaten no grapes from their newly planted vineyard, had not yet married their bride, since those whose life was now opening before them would have acted madly had they hazarded for the reality the whole possibility, the condition, of their life. It is contradictory to stake this property and this existence for property and existence as such; if one thing is sacrificed for another, both must be heterogeneous – property and existence only for honor, for freedom or beauty, for something eternal. But the Jews had no share in anything eternal.

Moses sealed his legislation with an orientally beautiful[15] threat of the loss of all pleasure and all fortune. He brought before the slavish spirit the image of itself, namely, the terror of physical force.[16]

Other reflections on the human spirit, other modes of consciousness, do not present themselves in these religious laws, and Mendelssohn[17] reckons it a higher merit in his faith that it proffers no eternal truths. “There is one God” is an assertion which stands on the summit of the state’s laws, and if something proffered in this form could be called a truth, then, of course, one might say: What deeper truth is there for slaves than that they have a master? But Mendelssohn is right not to call this a truth, since what we find as truth among the Jews did not appear to them under the form of truths and matters of faith. Truth is something free which we neither master nor as mastered by; hence the existence of God appears to the Jews not as truth but as a command. On God the Jews are dependent throughout, and that on which a man depends cannot have the form of a truth. Truth is beauty intellectually represented; the negative character of truth is freedom. But how could they have an inkling of beauty who saw in everything only matter? How could they exercise reason and freedom who were only either mastered or masters? How could they have hoped even for the poor immortality in which the consciousness of the individual is preserved, how could they have wished to persist in self-subsistence who had in fact renounced the capacity to will and even the very fact of their existence,[18] who wished only for a continuation of the possession of their land through their posterity, a continuation of an undeserving and inglorious name in a progeny of their own, who never enjoying any life or consciousness lifted above eating and drinking? How in such circumstances should it be a merit not to have sullied by restriction something which was not present, to have left free something which no one knew?[19] Eskimos might as well pride themselves on their superiority over any European because in their country no excise is paid on wine, and agriculture is not made harder by oppressive taxes.

Just as here a similar consequence – release from truths – follows from opposite conditions,[20] so, in reference, to the subordination of civil rights toe the law of the land, an institution of the Mosaic state has a striking resemblance to the situation created in their republics by two famous legislators, though its source is very different. In order to avert from their states[21] the danger threatening to freedom from the inequality of wealth, Solon and Lycurgus restricted property rights in numerous ways and set various barriers to the freedom of choice which might have led to unequal wealth. In the Mosaic state, similarly, a family’s property was consolidated in the family for all time; whoever had of necessity sold his property and himself was to enter on his property rights again in the great jubilee year, and in other cases on his personal rights in the seventh year; whoever had acquired more fields was to revert to the old boundaries of his lands. Whoever married from another tribe or another nation a girl who had no brothers and was therefore an owner of goods, eo ipso entered the tribe and family to which these goods belonged. Thus to belong to a family depended for him rather on something acquired than on what of all he had was most peculiarly his own, on a characteristic otherwise indelible, i.e., on his descent from certain parents.

In the Greek republics the source of these laws lay in the fact that, owing to the inequality which would otherwise have arisen, the freedom of the impoverished might have been jeopardized and they might have fallen into political annihilation; among the Jews, in the fact that they had no freedom and no rights, since they held their possessions only on loan and not as property,* since as citizens they were all nothing. The Greeks were to be equal because all were free, self-subsistent; the Jews equal because all were capable of self-subsistence. Hence ever Jew belonged to a family because he had a share in its soil, and this soil it could not even call its own; it was only conceded to it by grace. Every Jew’s inability to multiply his estates was admittedly only an ideal of the legislator’s, and his people does not seem to have adhered to it strictly. If the reason for it in the legislator’s soul had been the hindering of the inequality of wealth, quite different arrangements would have been chocked, and the great end of his legislation would inevitably have had to be the citizens’ freedom, a constitutional ideal to which no strain in the spirit of Moses and his nation corresponded.

The inability to multiply estates was not a consequence of equality of rights in land, but of equality in having no rights in it at all. The feeling of this equality stirred up the revolt of Dathan and Korah who found inconsistent the prerogative which Moses assumed for himself, i.e., that of being of some consequence (Numbers xvi. 3).[22] That show of a constitutional relation[23] between citizens vanished on inspection of the principle from which these [land] laws had flowed. Since the relation of the Jews to one another as citizens was none other than the equal dependence of all on their invisible ruler and his visible servants and officials, since therefore there was strictly no citizens body at all, and since further that dependence eliminated the precondition of all political, i.e., free, laws, it follows that there could not be anything among the Jews resembling a constitutional law, a legislative power determining a constitutional law, just as in any despotism the question about a constitutional law is contradictory.

Law courts and officials (scribes), as well as either permanent rulers of a kind (the heads of the tribes), or else leaders or governors arising and disappearing by force or capriciously or as the needs of the hour require, these there may and must be. Only in such a form of social interconnection could it be indifferent, could it remain indeterminate, whether monarchical power would be introduced or not. In the event of the Israelites having a notion to be ruled by a king like other peoples, Moses issued only a few ordered, some so fashioned that the monarchical power could abide by them or not as it pleased, others with no bearing whatever (not even only in general) on the founding of a constitution or of any popular rights against the kings. Of the rights which a nation has had to fear might be jeopardized, the Jewish nation had none; and among the Jews there was nothing left to oppress.

Moses did not live to see the complete execution of his legislation, which indeed has not come fully into force at all in any period of Israelite history. He died in punishment for a tiny initiative which stirred in him on the one occasion when he struck one single unbidden blow. In the survey (Deuteronomy xxxii. 11)[24] of his political life, he compares the way in which his God had led the Jews, through his instrumentality, with the behavior of the eagle which wishes to train its young to fly – it continually flutters its wings over the nest, takes the young on its wings, and bears them forth thereon. Only the Israelites did not complete this fine image; these young never became eagles. In relation to their God they rather afford the image of an eagle which by mistake warmed stones, showed them how to fly and took them on its wings into the clouds, but never raised their weight into flight or fanned their borrowed warmth into the flame of life.

The subsequent circumstances of the Jewish people up to the mean, abject, wretched circumstances in which they still are today, have all of them been simply consequences and elaborations of their original fate. By this fate – an infinite power which they set over against themselves and could never conquer – they have been maltreated and will be continually maltreated until they appease it by the spirit of beauty and so annul it by reconciliation.

The death of Moses was followed by a long period of losing independence as a result of good fortune[25] and of acquiring through oppression the spirit to struggle for independence again – this common fate of all nations was the fate of the Jewish nation also, but in their case it had to suffer two special modifications:

a) The transition to weakness, to a position of good fortune, appeared as a transition to the service of new gods, and the spirit to rise out of oppression to independence appeared as a reversion to their own God. When their distresses were alleviated, the Jews renounced the spirit of hostility and devastation, their El-Shaddai,[26] their God of distress. Humaner feelings arose in their hearts, and this produced a more friendly atmosphere; they reverenced more beautiful spirits and served strange gods. But now their fate seized upon them in the course of this very service. They could not be worshipers but only servants of these gods; they were now dependent on the world which hitherto had been subjected either to themselves or to their ideal; and the result was that their strength failed them, since it rests on hostility alone, and the bond of their state was completely loosened. Their state could not be supported simply by the fact that all the citizens had a support; they could subsist as united into a state only if all depended on a common factor, but on one belonging to them alone and opposed to all mankind.[27] By serving strange gods, they were untrue not to one of the laws which we call “laws of the land” but to the principle of their entire legislation and their state; and therefore a prohibition of idolatry was quite logical, and it was one of their first laws and chief interdicts. By mingling with other peoples, by bonds of marriage and friendship, by every kind of friendly, instead of servile, association with them, they developed a common life with them. Together they enjoyed the sun, together they gazed at the moon and the stars, or, when they reflected on their own feelings, they found ties and feelings in which they were united with others. These heavenly bodies, together with their union in them (i.e., together with the image of the feeling in which they were one), the Jews represented to themselves as something living, and in this way they acquired gods. In so far as the soul of Jewish nationality, the odium generis humani, flagged in the slightest and more friendly genii united it with strangers and carried it over the bounds of that hatred, so far were they deserters; they strayed into the orbit of an enjoyment not found in the bondage that was theirs hitherto. This experience, that outside their given inheritance there might still be room for something which a human heart could adopt, was a disobedience by a bondsmen who wished to know and call their own something outside and beyond what had come to hand from their lord. As they became humanized – even if they were capable of pure human feeling and were not enslaving themselves once more to something originally free – their vigor declined. There was not a contradiction in them; for how all of a sudden could they have shaken off their whole fate, the old community of hatred, and organized a beautiful union? They were soon driven back to it again, for in this dissolution of their community and their state they became a prey to stronger men; their mingling with other peoples became a dependence on them. Oppression aroused hatred once more, and thereupon their God reawakened. Their urge to independence was strictly an urge to dependence on something their own.

b) These changes, which other nations often traverse only in millenniums, must have been speedy with the Jews. Every condition they were in was too violent to persist for long. The state of independence, linked to universal hostility, could not persist; it is too opposed to nature. In other peoples the state of independence is a state of good fortune, of humanity at a more beautiful level. With the Jews, the state of independence was to be a state of total passivity, of total ugliness. Because their independence secured to them only food and drink, an indigent existence, it followed that with this independence, with this little, all was lost or jeopardized. There was no life left over which they could have maintained or enjoyed, whose enjoyment would have taught them to bear many a distress and make many sacrifices; under oppression their wretched existence at once came into jeopardy and they struggled to rescue it. This animal existence was not compatible with the more beautiful form of human life which freedom would have given them.

When the Jews introduced into their polity the monarchical power (which Moses held to be compatible, Samuel incompatible, with theocracy), many individuals acquired a political importance which they had to share with the priests or defend against them. While in free states the introduction of monarchy degrades all citizens to private persons, in this state, in which everyone was politically a nullity, it raised some individuals at least to be a more or less restricted entity. After the disappearance of the ephemeral but very oppressive brilliance of Solomon’s regime, the new powers (limitless lust for dominion and an actual dominion with restricted power) which had interwoven the introduction of monarchy with the scourges of their fate finally tore the Jewish people asunder and turned against its own vitals the same rabid lovelessness and godlessness which formerly it had turned against other nations; they carried its fate against itself by the instrumentality of its own hands. Foreign nations it learned at least to fear; instead of a people which was dominant in idea, it became one dominated in reality, and it acquired the feeling of its dependence on something external. For a long period it maintained itself by humiliations as a miserable sort of state until at the end (as the day of misfortune is never long behind the politics of cunning weakness) it was trodden to the ground altogether without retaining the strength to rise again. Inspired men had tried from time to time to cleave to the old genius of their nation and to revivify it in its death throes. But when the genius of a nation has fled, inspiration cannot conjure it back; inspiration cannot enchant away a people’s fate, though if it be pure and living, it can call a new spirit forth out of the depths of its life. But the Jewish prophets kindled their flame from the torch of a languishing genius to which they tried to restore its old vigor and, by destroying the many-sided interests of the time, its old dread sublime unity. Thus they could become only cold fanatics, circumscribed and ineffective when they were involved in policies and statecraft. They could afford only a reminiscence of bygone ages and so could only add to the confusion of the present without resurrecting the past. The mixture of passions could never again turn into a uniform passivity; on the contrary, arising form passive hearts, they were bound to rage all the more terribly. To flee from this grim reality, men sought consolation in ideas: the ordinary Jew, who was ready enough to sacrifice himself but not his Object, sought it in the hope of the coming Messiah; the Pharisees sought it in the business of serving and doing the will of the objective Being, and in the complete unification of their consciousness therewith (because of the incompleteness of the circle of their activities in which they were masters, they felt that there were powers outside it alien to themselves, and they therefore believed in the intermixture of an alien fate with the power of their will and their agency); the Sadducees sought it in the entire multiplicity of their existence and in the distractions of a variable life filled with nothing but fixed details and in which there could be indeterminacy only as the possibility of a transition to other fixities; the Essenes sought it in an eternal entity, in a fraternity which would ban all property, and everything connected with it, as a cause of separation, and which would make them into a living unity without multiplicity; they sought it in a common life which would be independent of all the relations of the real world and whose enjoyment would be grounded on the habit of being together, a “being together” which, owing to the absolute equality of the members, would never be disturbed by any diversification.[28]

The more thoroughgoing was the dependence of the Jews on their laws, the greater their obstinacy was bound to be when they met with opposition in the one field where they could still have a will of their own, namely, in their worship. The lightheartedness with which they let themselves be corrupted, let themselves become untrue to their faith, when what was alien to their faith approached them without hostility at times when their needs had been met and their miserable appetite satisfied, was parallel to the stubbornness with which they fought for their worship when it was attacked. They struggled for it like men in despair; they were even capable, in battling for it, of offending against its commands (e.g., the celebration of the Sabbath), though no force could have mad e them consciously transgress them at another’s order. And since life was so maltreated in them, since nothing in them was left undominated, nothing sacrosanct, their action became the most impious fury, the wildest fanaticism.

The Romans were disappointed when they hoped that fanaticism would die down under their moderate rule, for it glowed once more and was buried under the destruction it wrought.

The great tragedy of the Jewish people is no Greek tragedy; it can rouse neither terror nor pity, for both of these arise only out of the fate which follows from the inevitable slip of a beautiful character; it can arouse horror alone. The fate of the Jewish people is the fate of Macbeth who stepped out of nature itself, clung to alien Beings, and so in their service had to trample and slay everything holy in human nature, had at last to be forsaken by his gods (since these were objects and he their slave) and be dashed to pieces on his faith itself.


1. i.e., the unity of man with nature.

2. This distinction between thought and fact, ideal and real, permeates much of this essay. Where two things are utterly hostile to each other, they can come into relationship only if one becomes the master and the other the mastered. Nimrod attempted to be the master of nature, but he failed because he was only a natural reality, part of the nature he wished to dominate. Things (which Hegel here calls realities) can be mastered only by thought: “things are, but he who can think what they are is their master” (Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, Lasson’s ed., Part II, ii, p. 5). For the thinker, the subject, things have no self-subsistence; they lose their reality and become “ideal.” By conceiving God as one and as a conscious subject and as absolute power in virtue of his subjectivity, Judaism has risen above the oriental religions and taken the first step toward a true conception of God as spirit (ibid., p. 58).

3. Noah’s (and Abraham’s) ideal is conceived in thought, but it is more than a concept, for he ascribes existence to it; i.e., he conceives of God as a thinker who, as thinker, is lord of the realities which are the objects of his thought.

4. i.e., capable of understanding a law and so of coming under its sway.

5. “But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”

6. Praeparatio evangelica ix. 17 (Nohl). In this passage Eusebius quotes from Alexander Polyhistor as follows: “Eupolemus says in his book Concerning the Jews that the Assyrian city Babylon was first founded by those who escaped from the flood, and that they were giants and built the historically famous tower.”

7. Schönres – always the word which Hegel uses in connection with Greece. When he uses it in the sequel, it is always of Greek life that he is thinking.

8. “And Joshua said unto all the people... Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham,... and they served other gods.” In another draft (Nohl, p. 368), Hegel interprets this relationship of Abraham’s forebears to “other gods” as one “animated by imagination,” i.e., he assumes that their religious life at that time was similar to the Greek.

9. i.e., the imaginatively conceived gods of their former life, the gods whom Abraham had left behind.

10. Hegel is here using Kant’s distinction between idea and ideal. See Critique of Pure Reason, A 568-69: “Ideas are even further removed from objective reality than are categories, for no appearance can be found in which they can be represented in concreto.... But what I entitle the ideal seems to be further removed from objective reality even than the idea. By the ideal I understand the idea, not mere in concreto, but in individuo.... Human wisdom in its complete purity, and virtue, are ideas. The wise man of the Stoics, however, is an ideal, i.e., a man existing in thought only, but in complete conformity with the idea of wisdom.” (Kemp Smith’s translation).

11. “And they met Moses and Aaron... and said unto them, The Lord look upon you and judge, because ye have made our savior to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh.... The children of Israel hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.”

12. “The Egyptians were urgent upon the people that they might send them out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men. And the people took their dough before it was leavened.”

13. In 1720.

* The priests of Cybele, the sublime godhead which is all that is, was, and is to be, and their veils no mortal has unveiled – her priests were castrated, unmanned in body and spirit.

* The Lord could not come into complete ownership (i.e., destruction) of what was to serve; it must yet still have retained at least a vegetating life of its own.

14. “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.”

15. “Beautiful,” i.e., imaginative, like the language of Greek mythology. “Oriental,” i.e., the image was not a kindly one, like those of Greece, but a nonnatural one, a threat of terror, like those to which people under oriental despotisms were accustomed. See Deuteronomy, chap. Xxxiii.

16. In an earlier draft Hegel sums up his conception of the religion of Moses by saying that it is a religion “born of misfortune and made for misfortune” (Nohl, p. 373).

17. Moses Mendelssohn, the Jewish eighteenth-century philosopher, held that, whereas Christianity claimed to be a revelation of eternal truths and requires its adherence to believe these on authority, Judaism makes no such claim. Its belief in one God, he contends, is not a revelation but simply part of a natural religion to which all men, whether Jews of Gentiles, can attain by the exercise of reason. What Judaism commands is not certain beliefs but certain actions, and thus it leaves reason free, while a revealed religion (as distinct from a revealed body of legislation) does not (see Jerusalem, Part II of Werke Leipzig, 1843, III, 312 ff.).

18. i.e., instead of feeling the reality of their own existence as individual men, they felt only the existence of their possessions, etc. They were too concentrated on material satisfactions to have a sense of their individuality.

19. The reference is the the Jewish pride in their belief in God who was infinite (but was yonder, not here) and who was free (but hidden and mysterious).

20. i.e., beauty and imaginative imagery in Greece, and domination and servitude in Judaism.

21. Athens and Sparta, respectively.

* Leviticus xxv. 23 ff. And 35. They could alienate nothing, “for the land is mine and ye are strangers and sojourners with me.

22. “They gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron and said unto them: Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them.... Wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?”

23. i.e. the equality of all in having no rights in land.

24. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him.”

25. i.e., because prosperity is likely to make men weak and so to leave them a prey to jealous neighbors.

26. The Hebrew words translated by “God Almighty” in Genesis xvii, 1; Exodus vi. 3; etc.

27. Hegel here originally inserted, but later deleted, a reference to Deuteronomy iv. 19-20. This passage (taking our marginal reading, which is that of Luther’s version) reads: “Take heed lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven and, when thou seest the sun, the moon, and the starts..., thou be drawn away and worship them which the Lord hath imparted unto all the peoples under the whole heaven. But the Lord hath taken you... to be unto him a people of inheritance.”

28. “The Pharisees ascribe all to fate and to God, and yet allow that to do what is right or the contrary is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate in every action. They are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact explication of the law.... The Sadducees take away fate entirely and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil. They say that men may act as they please. The behavior of the Sadducees towards one another is in some degrees wild. Their doctrine is received by but few... but they are able to do almost nothing of themselves. When they become magistrates, as they are something unwillingly obliged to do, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise hear them. They say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but not those derived from the tradition of our forefathers..... The Essenes will not suffer anything to hinder them from having all things in common. They neither marry wives nor are desirous to keep servants. They live by themselves and minister to one another” (Josephus Wars of the Jews ii. 8; Antiquities of the Jews xiii. 10, xviii. 1).