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The Excommunicant

Richard Popkin: Spinoza v. the Synagogue

15 October 1998
The God of Spinoza: A Philosophical Study 
by Richard Mason.
Cambridge, 272 pp., £35, May 1997, 0 521 58162 1
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Spinoza, Liberalism and the Question of Jewish Identity 
by Steven Smith.
Yale, 270 pp., £21, June 1997, 0 300 06680 5
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... is to see the world from the aspect of eternity, and to achieve the intellectual love of God. As Richard Mason reminds us, Spinoza’s neglect of epistemology made him of little interest to those who insisted that the problem of knowledge as set out by Descartes defined what philosophy was properly about. Spinoza found a little room for that problem only at ...

When it is advisable to put on a fez

Richard Popkin: Adventures of a Messiah

23 May 2002
The Lost Messiah: In Search of Sabbatai Sevi 
by John Freely.
Viking, 275 pp., £20, September 2001, 0 670 88675 0
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... The dramatic story of the rise and fall of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Sevi has usually been presented as a weird anomaly in Jewish history, with no redeeming merit as a lesson. However, as more and more becomes known about it, the case becomes of greater, and more general interest. Sabbatai Sevi was born in 1626, the son of a Jewish assistant to the Dutch, English and French merchants then living in Smyrna (now Izmir ...

Dear Prudence

Steven Shapin: Stephen Toulmin

14 January 2002
Return to Reason 
by Stephen Toulmin.
Harvard, 243 pp., £16.95, June 2001, 0 674 00495 7
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... academic philosophers who have bewitched themselves into a sense of a civilising mission. For Richard Rorty, philosophers’ obsession with such merely mood-enhancing words as Reason, Reality, Truth, Objectivity and Method is little more than the fetishism of an increasingly parochial discipline. If you really want to understand how knowledge is made and ...

Tick-Tock

Malcolm Bull: Three Cheers for Apocalypse

9 December 1999
Conversations about the End of Time 
by Umberto Eco and Stephen Jay Gould.
Allen Lane, 228 pp., £14.99, September 1999, 0 7139 9363 4
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Apocalypses: Prophesies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs throughout the Ages 
by Eugen Weber.
Hutchinson, 294 pp., £18.99, July 1999, 0 09 180134 6
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Messianic Revolution: Radical Religious Politics to the End of the Second Millennium 
by Richard Popkin and David Katz.
Allen Lane, 303 pp., £18.99, October 1999, 0 7139 9383 9
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... Jewish and Christian identities in the history of apocalyptic interpretation is at the heart of Popkin and Katz’s Messianic Revolution. Just as Jewish apocalypses envision that Jews will get mixed up with Gentiles, Christian interpreters often came to believe that the Jews, long excluded from divine favour, would once again play a role in salvation ...

Who Will Lose?

David Edgar

23 September 2008
Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future 
by Newton Minow and Craig LaMay.
Chicago, 219 pp., £11.50, April 2008, 978 0 226 53041 3
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... This last fact is revealing. In the first televised presidential debates in 1960, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon argued for four hours. Since televised debating returned in 1976, 13 presidential and ten vice-presidential candidates have spent a further 39 and three-quarter hours standing at podiums, sitting at tables or prowling among studio audiences. Despite ...

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