Treatise of the Three Impostors  

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"However important it may be for all men to know the Truth, very few, nevertheless, are acquainted with it, because the majority are incapable of searching it themselves, or perhaps, do not wish the trouble. Thus we must not be astonished if the world is filled with vain and ridiculous opinions, and nothing is more capable of making them current than ignorance, which is the sole source of the false ideas that exist regarding the Divinity, the soul, and the spirit, and all the errors depending thereon." more...[1]

"... these three impostors. Moses threw himself into an abyss by an excess of ambition to cause himself to be believed immortal. Jesus Christ was ignominiously hung up between two thieves, being covered with shame as a recompense for his imposture, and lastly, Mahomet died in reality in his own bed, and in the midst of grandeur, but with his bowels consumed by poison given him by a young Jewess, to determine if he really was a prophet."

Treatise of the Three Impostors by anonymous (date unknown, edition shown 1777)
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Treatise of the Three Impostors by anonymous (date unknown, edition shown 1777)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Treatise of the Three Impostors or of L ‘esprit dr Spinosa (The Spirit of Spinoza) is an anonymously published pamphlet of the Enlightenment which helped to advance the critique of religious dominance, denoted as "these silly ideas of God". Its Latin original De tribus impostoribus is a possible literary mystification, but has been attributed to various authors.

The work denies all three Abrahamic religions - Christ, Moses and Muhammed. The existence of such a book, and the attribution of its authorship to various heretics and political enemies was a running theme from the 11th Century to the 18th when hoaxes in Germany and France produced two physical books.

Contents

Authorship

Various authors have been attributed to this anonymously published pamphlet, including Kaiser Friedrich II., Abu Tahir Al-Djannabi (907-944), Simon de Tournai (c.1130-1201), Pietro della Vigna, Guillaume Postel, Jan Nachtegal, Averroes, Petrus Pomponatius, Pietro Aretino, Michael Servet, Gerolamo Cardano, Niccolò Machiavelli, François Rabelais, Erasmus, John Milton, Matthias Knutzen, Angelus Merula, Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella, Giovanni Boccaccio, Baron d'Holbach, Sa'd ibn Mansur ibn Kammuna, Uriel da Costa and Baruch Spinoza. Its current English-language edition, based on a 1904 translation is attributed to Alcofribas Nasier, a pseudonym of Rabelais.

Printing history

Its first printing was accredited to the printer Marc-Michel Rey, but may have existed in manuscript form for some time before it was published. It is unlikely to have been around since the time of Frederick II which was part of the mythology of the manuscript. The first trace we have of it as a manuscript comes from a letter to Prosper Marchand from his old friend, Caspar Fritsch. He reminds Marchand about how another friend, Charles Levier, got the manuscript of the treatise from the library of Benjamin Furly in 1711. It is almost certainly from the early eighteenth century and may be traceable to Marchand's circle that included Rousset de Missy.

Content

It was nominally a text handed down from generation to generation detailing how the three major figures of Biblical religion: Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses were in fact misrepresenting what had happened to them. At the time, this novel approach was used to allow thinkers to conceptualize a world where explanation ruled over mere "mystery", a term used for the miraculous intervention on earth by God. It was useful to both Deists and Atheists in legitimizing their world view and being a common source of intellectual reference. The work was put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1783.

In 1846, Emil Weller published "De Tribus Impostoribus," and also a later edition in 1876, at Heilbronn, from a Latin copy of one of the only four known to be in existence and printed in 1598. The copy from which it was taken, consisting of title and forty-six leaves, quarto, is at the Royal Library at Dresden, and was purchased for one hundred gulden.[2]

The other three, according to Ebert in his "Bibliographical Lexicon," are as follows: one in the Royal Library at Paris, one in the Crevanna Library and the other in the library of Renouard.[3]

An edition was published at Rackau, in Germany, in 1598, and Thomas Campanella (1636), in his "Atheismus Trumphatus," gives the year of its first publication as 1538.[4]

Excerpt

However important it may be for all men to know the Truth, very few, nevertheless, are acquainted with it, because the majority are incapable of searching it themselves, or perhaps, do not wish the trouble. Thus we must not be astonished if the world is filled with vain and ridiculous opinions, and nothing is more capable of making them current than ignorance, which is the sole source of the false ideas that exist regarding the Divinity, the soul, and the spirit, and all the errors depending thereon.

The custom of being satisfied with born prejudice has prevailed, and by following this custom, mankind agrees in all things with persons interested in supporting stubbornly the opinions thus received, and who would speak otherwise did they not fear to destroy themselves.

What renders the evil without remedy, is, that after having established these silly ideas of God, they teach the people to receive them without examination. They take great care to impress them with aversion for philosophers, fearing that the Truth which they teach will alienate them. The errors in which the partisans of these absurdities have been plunged, have thrived so well that it is dangerous to combat them. It is too important for these impostors that the people remain in this gross and culpable ignorance than to allow them to be disabused. Thus they are constrained to disuse the truth, or to be sacrificed to the rage of false prophets and selfish souls. [5]

See also




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