NEW JERUSALEM: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza Supplemental Dramaturgy Compiled for Theater J, Washington DC Copyright lies with

Theater J. Please contact for permission to copy or reuse any parts of this material. David Ives on Spinoza………………………………………………………………………………………2 Spinoza’s Life and Times: An Illustrated Chronology………………………………………..5 Spinoza’s Life and Times: A Narrative……………………………………………………………..10


The Playwright on Spinoza David Ives: In Conversation Kathryn MacMillan, Associate Artistic Director of The Lantern Theater in Philadelphia, interviewed playwright David Ives in September 2011 about his play NEW JERUSALEM. KM: The play has had an impassioned response. We have ticket buyers telling us they've seen it in NY and DC and they're coming to see it again at the Lantern. Has its broad success caught you at all by surprise? David Ives: On the one hand, yes, I am surprised by New Jerusalem's reach and success because it's a play about a 17th century philosopher and no doubt looks forbidding at first glance. Yet when I set myself to work on the play I knew that this was a story with extraordinary dramatic and theatrical and human possibilities. Even more importantly, I knew that the issues raised by Spinoza's excommunication and banishment, and by his philosophy, are questions that resonate today as much as in 1656 – and indeed will always resonate as long as nations/societies/communities are troubled by heterodox thinkers, and for as long as people wonder about the nature of reality and the existence of God. That is to say, forever. People come to New Jerusalem because it asks, via Spinoza and his interrogators, the Big Questions, the eternal questions – and asks them dramatically, in a human story. Just consider that, to this day, the argument still rages: was Spinoza the greatest atheist in human history, or the greatest believer ever? Was he a destroyer of God, or "a God-intoxicated man," as one of his contemporaries described him? A pantheist, or a nihilist, or both? And aren't such contradictions the stuff of a great dramatic character? KM: Yeah, he's fascinating. In a previous interview, you've said of his belief in predetermination, "Even though the universe and everything was determined, there's a kind of freedom in that," and that he faced possible excommunication with peacefulness. Do you identify at all with Spinoza in that way? I rather envy him for it, I must say! David: There are four great "trials" in the history of civilization: Socrates, Jesus, Galileo, and Spinoza. In each case, the man's life was changed, but so, ultimately, was history. But one of the reasons we revisit those trials is to see how a person acts under the greatest possible stress. We don't know what actually happened inside Talmud Torah Congregation on July 27, 1656, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to write this play: to imagine the scene there, extrapolating from everything we know about Spinoza and his community and his society. We do know that Talmud Torah's rabbi, who was the chief rabbi of Amsterdam and Spinoza's mentor, rushed across town to publicly damn his former student; we also know that, as a result of whatever Spinoza said in answer to his interrogators' questions, he was cast out of the Jewish people with the harshest writ of excommunication in the history of the Sephardic community of Amsterdam. Yet Spinoza was beloved by so many people who knew him. He seemed to meet the world with calmness and quiet strength. The question remains, and the


play raises it: was that quiet strength, or simply blind arrogance? But inspiring? Absolutely. Kathryn: The other great trials you mention – Socrates, Jesus, and Galileo – have been dramatized several times. Were any of those plays, Brecht's Galileo, say, inspiring or useful to you as you wrote NEW JERUSALEM? David: You might say that Jesus was very helpful, in a way. When I'm at work on a play I often go to pieces of music, something appropriate to listen to between writing sessions. In the case of New Jerusalem I listened endlessly to Bach's St. Matthew Passion – which, besides being the greatest piece of music ever written and thereby naturally inspiring, gave me a sense of size and mass. It's also a trial, in music. Socrates is inspiring any day of the year. As for Brecht, I didn't want to go to that play because I didn't want to be affected or perhaps infected by its tone, which is very particular, very Brechtian, and not at all what I was looking for. Kathryn: You were an editor of Foreign Affairs magazine. Is there a continuum between your life in journalism, editing a periodical on international politics, and your life as a playwright – one who, it seems to me, has travelled from century to century in your work, dramatizing some of the most interesting people and events? David: I'll take my cue from Spinoza: there has to be a continuum in everything I do, not that I myself can necessarily make sense of it. Spinoza might also say the continuum is the result of the total determination of everything I do. Luckily for me, my totally determined continuum somehow dropped me into the theater, which is the best world-within-this-world one could wish for. Somehow I ended up in the same business as Shakespeare. Not bad, for a continuum! David Ives on Spinoza and New Jerusalem In June 2010, Tim Treanor of DC TheatreScene interviewed David Ives about NEW JERUSALEM. TT: So is this play fundamentally a debate about ideas? In an interview with DC Theatre Scene, Ives, who New York Magazine once named one of the 100 smartest New Yorkers, argued that “all plays are about debates, and debates about fundamental values. The Liar for all its frothiness is a debate about truth and lies.” New Jerusalem is about ideas, but this is nothing new to Ives. David Ives: I can’t think of a play I’ve written that wasn’t a play about ideas. A Flea in her Ear is a play about determinism. All farces are a plays about determinism. We see the wheels that make things go and the characters don’t, and this is as deterministic as Spinoza. TT: That would be deterministic indeed. Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) was a revolutionary Jewish philosopher…who believed God was an impersonal force found in nature, that all events happen because they must, and in consequence humans have no free will. His beliefs had a terrific impact on the Jewish community in Amsterdam, and not a happy one for Spinoza. He was called to account for his theories before the community’s leaders. David Ives: Up to that point he had been an unexceptional citizen of Amsterdam and the Jewish community – it was thought he would follow the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, who was his mentor, to become a Jewish theologian. The outcome (at the hearing) was not


foreordained. In this hearing before the board members of the synagogue, he was free to say and do whatever he wanted. They did not know what his beliefs were. They could have welcomed him back to the community and there were a number of possible outcomes…There is no record of what was said at that time, but we have the order of excommunication. It was the harshest excommunication in the records of the Sephardic Jews of Amsterdam. [The Order read: The chiefs of the council make known to you that having long known of evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Spinoza, they have endeavored by various means and promises to turn him from evil ways. Not being able to find any remedy, but on the contrary receiving every day more information about the abominable heresies practiced and taught by him, and about the monstrous acts committed by him, having this from many trustworthy witnesses who have deposed and borne witness on all this in the presence of said Spinoza, who has been convicted; all this having been examined in the presence of the Rabbis, the council decided, with the advice of the Rabbi, that the said Spinoza should be excommunicated and cut off from the Nation of Israel.] TT: There is a subtext to this hearing and excommunication: it may have not been motivated by the desires of the Jewish community at all, but rather the demands of Amsterdam Christians. Although the Dutch – almost uniquely among European nations at the time – tolerated the presence of Jews, any hint of unconventional theology of a Jewish origin could result in an expulsion of the entire community. David Ives: (They were) faced with a very difficult question. They had made a deal with the Dutch authorities that in order to retain their freedom to practice their religion, they would police their own community. This was a Faustian bargain that they had to fulfill…Despite the fact that Amsterdam was the freest place in the world in 1656 any sort of atheism or religious unorthodoxy was considered to be prelude to political unorthodoxy, so Amsterdam was hard on anyone who could present a religious unorthodoxy. (So) the Jewish community lost a prized member, his family could not communicate with him, his business associates were cut off from them, he was an outcast, and his great mentor, the Chief Rabbi, lost his prize pupil…This hearing changed Western civilization because he was turned out not only of the community but out of Amsterdam – so he was free to develop his radical philosophy seminal Ethics. TT: Ives first encountered Spinoza as a student. David Ives: I read Spinoza maybe 30 years ago, when I was at Yale Drama School, because I heard he was important. I read the Ethics. I can’t say I understood everything. I heard a quote from Einstein. When he was asked whether he believed in God, he said ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God. I admired (Spinoza) more and more as a thinker and a human being. I found him endlessly fascinating as a man and a philosopher. There is no bottom to him – his philosophy is still being debated, within the Jewish community and outside of it. Some say his philosophy is Jewish and some not. He is a Rorschach blot – a genial one – which is good for a character. Hamlet is a genial Rorschach blot as well. I had a great time writing this play…I wrote the first draft of the play in 10 days or so…I don’t workshop plays – I think it murders plays to workshop them, this caution of theaters is not helping Theater – focus groups have their say, and audiences tell the playwright what they think. And this murders the play. It should be done as Shakespeare did – you write the play, you give it to the company, and they put it up.


Spinoza’s Life and Times: An Illustrated Chronology (Compiled from “A Spinoza Chronology” by Ron Bombardi, Department of Philosophy, Middle Tennessee State University; “Spinoza Timeline” Philosophy Department, Oregon State University) 1391 Spanish Jews are forced to convert to Catholicism for the sake of "social and sectarian uniformity." Establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, whose primary task is to convict and execute those found judaizing (living according to Jewish customs.)


Circa 1500, A prisoner undergoing torture at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. Monks in the background wait for his confession with quill and paper. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

1492 1497

All practicing Jews in Spain are given the choice to convert or be expelled. All Portuguese Jews (including Spinoza’s ancestors) are forced to convert. A steady stream of Jewish refugees begins to flow out of Portugal. Death of Copernicus (born 1473), who proposed that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around.


Copernicus' model of the heliocentric universe.



Death of Martin Luther (born 1483), who was excommunicated by the Catholic Church in 1521 and founded the Lutheran Church. Birth of Galileo Galilee, William Shakespeare, and Christophe Marlowe. Death of John Calvin, who founded Calvinism (the Presbyterian Church today). Birth of Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher who took a materialistic view of the mind. Birth of René Descrates, one of the most influential philosophers of the post-medieval era, whom Hegel later called "the father of modern philosophy." Giordano Bruno burned at the stake for siding with Copernicus and holding pantheistic beliefs.

1564 1564 1588



1609. The beginning of the twelve year truce between the United Provinces (today’s Holland) and Spain, which effectively established political independence for the seven northern provinces as well as their (Protestant) sectarian separation from the (Catholic) southern provinces. Few believed that Spain would peacefully let go of this valuable area, which contained the city of Amsterdam and its lucrative merchant industry. 1610 Galileo builds a telescope. His study of the stars leads him to adopt Copernicus’s views on movements of the sun and earth.


The defenestration of Prague (during which two Imperial governors and their secretary were tossed from Prague Castle)—which sparks the Thirty Years War. Francis Bacon writes Noveum organum. Hostilities resume between Spain and the United Provinces.

1620 1621


1622 1628

Probable date Spinoza’s parents arrive at Amsterdam. William Harvey discovers the mechanisms of the human circulatory system. Descartes completes Regulae ad directionem ingenii. Descartes moves to Holland. November 24, Birth of Baruch Spinoza, in Amsterdam. Birth of Jan Vermeer in Delft. Birth of John Locke in Wrington, Somerset. Inquisitorial denunciation of Galileo. Galileo is convicted and placed under house arrest. Birth of Isaac Newton. The Treaty of Westphalia terminates the Thirty Years War. The United Provinces sign a separate peace accord recognizing independence of the United Provinces.

1629 1632

1633 1642 1648

Ratification of the Peace of Münster (Gerard ter Borch, Münster, 1648)


Under the tutelage of Dr. Van den Enden of Bremen, Spinoza studies Latin, natural science (physics, mechanics, chemistry, astronomy, and physiology) and philosophy. Spinoza probably meets Clara Marie van den Enden (the headmaster’s daughter) with whom he later falls in love. Spinoza is introduced to the philosophy of Descartes, who died in Sweden in 1650. Spinoza takes up lens-grinding. Upon their father's death, Spinoza’s sister Rebekah tries to block his inheritance. He takes her to court, wins the case, and then renounces the inheritance. His growing frustration with the Jewish community compels him to leave and move in with Van den Enden, and begin teaching in his school--which is known as an institution of free enquiry.

1651 1652 1654



Spinoza is accused of heresy (materialism and "contempt for the Torah") before the Tribunal of the Congregation. July 27 Spinoza--at twenty-four years old--is excommunicated from the Jewish faith for his unorthodox speculations and association with free thinkers. An edict of the States of Holland prohibits the teaching of Cartesian philosophy.


Baruch Spinoza

1656-1660 After his return to Amsterdam Spinoza supports himself by giving lessons on Cartesian philosophy and by grinding lenses. He writes the Short Treatise on God, Man and his Well-being, a crude expression of his later philosophy. 1663 Spinoza moves to Voorburg but on the way stops in Amsterdam where his friends persuade him to complete and publish Principles in Cartesian Philosophy. It is the only work published in his lifetime in his own name. Spinoza moves to The Hague where he is supported by a small pension from his close friend Jan de Witt, the Grand Pensionary of the Netherlands. He publishes anonymously Theologico-Political Treatise, which is banned four years later because its advocacy of toleration threatens the current political and religious authorities. Clara Marie van den Enden marries Dr. Kerckrinck, a wealthy Amsterdam physician and disciple of Spinoza. August 20, Jan de Witt and his brother are beaten to death by an angry crowd incited by accusations that de Witt is at fault for the current occupation by the French military. Spinoza is so outraged that his friends lock him in his house to keep him from running out into the crowd with a sign declaring them the ultimate barbarians, which would likely have led to his own death.





Johan DeWitt and His Brother Cornelius (in the Background)


Spinoza completes Ethica, in which he described how “Mind and body are one and the same thing, which is conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under that of extension…And consequently the order of the actions and passions of our body is the same as the order of the actions and passions of the mind.” As he prepares to have it published, a rumor begins spreading that he was to publish a book which sought to show there was no God. The reaction to this rumor forces Spinoza to delay publication. February 21, Spinoza dies of a lung ailment complicated by the glass dust from his lens grinding. A few months later his friends publish Ethica, a collection of his correspondence, and three other works: Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, Political Treatise, and Hebrew Grammar. A Dutch translation of Spinoza’s works is published.



Spinoza’s Tomb at the Hague


Spinoza’s Life and Times: A Narrative (by Stephen Spotswood, dramaturg NEW JERUSALEM) What are all these Jews doing in Amsterdam in the middle of the 17th century? (Or: Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition) In 1492, the rulers of Spain ordered all Jews in their territories to convert to Christianity or leave the realm. At the time, Spain was home to about 800,000 Jews. Many converted to Christianity only to find themselves slaughtered later during the Spanish Inquisition. Others boarded boats and fled, with about 120,000 migrating to the neighboring kingdom of Portugal. Their reception was less than warm. 20,000 Jewish children underwent forcible baptism; one day in Lisbon in 1506, 2,000 Jews were massacred. But in time the immigrants established a thriving merchant community. This ended in 1580 when the Vatican announced that the Inquisition should proceed “in a free and unimpeded way” in Portugal, and another exodus began. About 1,000 of these Portuguese Jews—including Baruch Spinoza’s father, Michael—eventually ended up in Amsterdam. Amsterdam, at the time, was considered the trade capital of the world and arguably the most liberal Western city. Jews in Amsterdam, unlike every other European city, were not confined to a ghetto and were allowed to live and work where they wanted. However, there were limits, including laws keeping Jews from converting or attempting to convert Christians in Amsterdam. The Jewish community in Amsterdam consisted, until well into the 17th century, of three smaller, separate communities, which were not unified until 1638. The synagogue of Talmud Torah—the community’s first formal synagogue—did not hold its first public service until 1639. Previously, Jews were not allowed to worship publicly. When the parnassim gathered in 1656 to debate the excommunication of Baruch de Spinoza, their community as a unified whole was less than 20 years old and still very vulnerable. “Men live together like Citizens of the World, associated by the common ties of Humanity…under the impartial protection of indifferent laws, with…equal freedom of Speculation and Enquiry.” – Sir William Temple, English ambassador on Amsterdam, 1670. What is Spinoza’s philosophy (in 4 clauses or less)? IF it is true that in the beginning there was God and nothing else. THEN there was no Substance for God to create the universe out of other than the Substance of Himself.


THEREFORE the entire universe was created from God, and everything in the universe is an aspect/piece of God. AND IF God is perfect, and the entire universe IS God, then the universe, as it is, is perfect. Why is this philosophy such a problem for Rabbi Mortera (and all the Jews and Christians in Amsterdam in 1656)? Making God the only Substance in the universe sounds incredibly spiritual—and in practice might very well be—but takes a sledgehammer to the central tenants of Judaism and Christianity.  It takes away the separation of mind and body (Spinoza describes the mind as something that emerges from the body, getting the jump on modern psychology by a few centuries) and in doing so does away with the idea of a soul separate from the body. And by doing away with the soul, he does eliminate the concept of salvation and an afterlife. By saying that the entire universe is a manifestation of the essence of God, Spinoza is saying that all the evils of the world are part of God as well. And by saying that the universe is perfect as it is, Spinoza argues that not only are miracles (God interfering with the Natural order of things) unnecessary, but impossible.

 

In short, Spinoza does not so much subtract God from the world, but subtracts the divinity from God. Why does this philosophy sound so familiar to modern ears? Spinoza’s philosophy is very close to the modern concept of secular humanism: a philosophy that espouses reason, ethics and justice and rejects religious dogma as the basis of morality and decision-making. Secular humanism has also been called “scientific humanism,” and described as the worldview most compatible with science’s growing understanding of the world. Considering the age that Spinoza lived in, this might accounts for his immense influence on the leading thinkers that followed him. What was Spinoza’s time period? Spinoza emerged during the Age of Reason, which was sandwiched between the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. At the beginning of the 17th century, the ideas of philosophy, theology, science and politics were still very much tied together. Church teachings dictated the limits of philosophy; political systems still very much adhered to Church teachings; and the word “science” was barely in use. The first “scientists” were called Natural Philosophers—or people who studied the workings of the Natural world (differentiating them from moral philosophers).


This century would see the European world take the largest steps away from the medieval mode of thinking. The great philosophers of the day (including Descartes, who lived and worked in Amsterdam while Spinoza was there), began teasing apart ethics, logic, metaphysic and the physical sciences into separate systems of thought. Practically though, this was a world in terrible conflict with itself. The greatest minds of the age were discovering the secrets of the universe and advocating for a world where reason prevailed, while next door horrible atrocities were being perpetrated in the name of God (see: Spanish Inquisition) And how important was Spinoza to all this? Or, why did somebody bother to write a play about him? Spinoza’s philosophy—that the universe we live in is one ruled by cause and effect—was the philosophy that Natural philosophers were waiting for. It allows for an examination of the world that does not rely on theology. With this philosophy there will never be an equation that says: a+b/the hand of God=D. Centuries before Darwin posited that the natural world was one that evolved through natural processes, Spinoza declared that this reality was inevitable. His philosophy also puts forth the reasoning for the separation of Church and State and the idea that all men are created equal, making Spinoza one of the spiritual fathers of modern Democracy. Baruch de Spinoza is one of the most important and influential philosophers of his day and, if not responsible for many of the patterns of modern thought, at least had the clarity of vision to describe those patterns as they emerged. In short, he helped jumpstart the Age of Enlightenment, which gave birth to the modern world. “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists.” – Albert Einstein Did the rest of the world see Spinoza as dangerous at the time? Even more so. Academic, religious and political leaders throughout Europe decried Spinoza as one of the most dangerous men alive. His first widespread publication, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, was published anonymously in 1670 and was a criticism of religious intolerance and an argument for a secular state. The amount of denunciation it received would not be equaled again until Darwin’s Origin of the Species. It was considered by many at the time to be the most evil book ever published and that Spinoza was a servant of the devil. When his grand work—the five-part Ethics outlining in detail his entire philosophy—was to be published following his death in 1677, it had to be done in secret. The manuscript was smuggled to his publisher in Amsterdam in an unmarked crate. When word that the manuscript was to be published became known, Vatican officials urged that no effort be spared to suppress it. This included partnering with Protestant and Jewish leaders to scour Amsterdam to discover who was publishing the manuscript and stop it.


In this way, Spinoza succeeded where so many failed—uniting the faiths of the Western world— at least for a short time. And today? In 1954—300 years after Spinoza’s excommunication—David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, proposed that the anniversary be marked with a revocation of that excommunication. He also suggested that Hebrew University undertake the publication of Spinoza’s complete works in Hebrew. The Jewish community of Amsterdam vehemently opposed the idea. And many voices in Israel were raised in support of the Amsterdam synagogue. The kherem of Spinoza remains in place.