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Walter Hilliger
Homme de lettres

Menasseh Ben Israel | De Creatione Problemata XXX

Menasseh Ben Israel self-published “Thirty Problems Concerning Creation” (De Creatione Problemata XXX) at his own expense, aiming to revive the classical creation doctrine and tackle philosophical and theological questions about the origin of the universe and faith. This edition marks the first translation of the 1635 Latin version.

Cover of the first translation into English, Thirty Problems Against Creation (De Creatione Problemata XXX), Menasseh Ben Israel, 2023.
ISBN : 978-1735673790

The foreword examines the historical neglect of the book “De Creatione Problemata XXX (1635)” – Thirty Problems Concerning Creation (2023), shedding light on the factors contributing to its obscurity for nearly 500 years. Despite the significant effort invested by the translator of Gersonides and scholar, Professor Seymour Feldman over a few decades, the book remained untranslated. This is perhaps due to distinct factors: the book’s challenging alignment with changing political orders, its theological and philosophical content at odds with prevailing materialism, its complex classical Sephardic literary style out of step with modern conventions, and its misinterpreted identity to garner a dedicated readership.

Why did this book remain neglected for almost half a millennium? 

The translation of De Creatione Problemata XXX (1635) “Thirty Problems Concerning Creation” took over half a century since Seymour Feldman studied the original version without finding another Hebrew scholar to assist with translating it from Latin. In 2020, after he introduced my translation of Orobio’s Certamen Philosophicum (1706), [1] Prof. Feldman advised me to consult with Professor Norbert Samuelson of Arizona State University about finding a possible Spanish version to help with the translation. There was none.
But other circumstances contributed to the scholarly neglect or censorship surrounding this specimen of classical Sephardic literature:

First of all, the Faculties of Classical Letters and Oriental Studies have remained separate for 300 years and the Thirty Problems met the criteria of books that challenged the new secular political order that followed the Separation of State and Church, with its dedication to a Prince of the Royal House of Orange-Nassau. [2] 

Additionally, an heteronomous acknowledgment of the “soul”, “divine perfections”, “angels”, etc., derived through biblical exegesis and reflections in Latin, prevented its wider dissemination due to materialism within modern Academia because “the force of imagination cannot grasp together both “an idea and matter” which is proven by the clear demonstration explaining that God is disembodied, [3] or by the existence of the divine perfection in the singularity of the number zero. [4] With this being established, it is inconceivable for the imaginative faculty that “genius” or “angels” are immaterial. [5]

Furthermore, the “dry scholastic style, the abundance of quotations from a hodgepodge of sources” [6]  represents the lost art of classical rhetoric. The Derashot of the classical Sephardic tradition preceded the current impersonal and descriptive language, using inanimate and mechanic figures drawn from physics, over-simplified sentence structures, commonplace verbs linking heavy noun clusters, preventing readers from any stylistic element being intentionally planned or thoughtful, i.e. syllogism, enthymeme, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, metalepsis, etc.
Moreover, there is an identitarian misplacement: although modern scholars cataloged it for archival purposes as  “a Jewish book for Christian audiences” I have found no one from the ordained clergy of the Curia in France or the US, who was familiarized with Medieval Latin philosophy that includes Hebrew or Maimonidean scholasticism; their use of vernacular Latin only allows them to understand the classical language of their liturgy.
Neither did I find Jewish readers and scholars who would dismiss “as for Christian audiences” the countless citations with insights from the Talmud, Midrash, Mishnah, or the ancient sages’, including Rambam, Radak, Ralbag, Abarbanel, Ibn Ezra, etc.
Finally, Ashkenazi historians, whose background in Slavic countries distanced them from the rationalist Latin influence, called it “pedantic, pretentious and trivial” [7] or “a rather irrelevant booklet.” [8]  And so they neglected it. As Menasseh stated in his preface to the reader: “Those jealous ones, through their malice and lack of reasoning, did not achieve any other goal than, against their will, making me even better.” [9]How?
By highlighting the intellectual rift between secular modernity and Menasseh’s classical thought.

If this book was uninteresting or too biblical for atheists; too Jewish for Christians, or too Christian for Jews; too Scholastic for academics, or too academic to be Scholastic; too medieval to be modern, or too modern to be Orthodox, too philosophical to be religious, or too religious to be philosophical, it is only because it transcended those boundaries. And now, after almost half a millennium, it also defies the barrier of time, with the enduring value of the universal character of the classical Sephardic tradition. 

Notes:

1. Isaac Orobio de Castro, Certamen Philosophicum, Propugnatae Veritatis Divinae ac Naturalis, Introduction by Seymour Feldman pp. 17-41. Philosophical Case in Defense of Divine and Natural Truth, trans. Walter Hilliger (2020), New York, Shehakol.
2. Menasseh, Thirty Problems, Appendix, Letter of Dedication, p. 221.
3. Menasseh ben Israel, Thirty Problems, Problem V, p. 70.
4. Menasseh ben Israel, Thirty Problems, Problem XXVII, note 3, p. 185.
5. Menasseh ben Israel, Thirty Problems, Problem V, pp. 70-71.
6. Nadler, Steven, Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi of Amsterdam, 72, (2018).
7. Roth Cecil, A Life of Menasseh Ben Israel  (1945), p. 91.
8. Nadler (2018), note 37, p. 243, 2018).
9. Menasseh, Thirty Problems, Appendix, Preface to the Reader, p. 228.

Interview: The first translation of Menasseh Ben Israel’s Thirty Problems Concerning Creation, 2023

About the Author
Walter Hilliger is a French Caribbean writer, translator, and publisher of manuscript writings and facsimiles of Sephardic authors of the Grand Siècle, notably Isaac Orobio (1617 - 1787), R. David Nieto (1654 - 1728), Menasseh Ben Israel (1604-1657), R. Moses Raphael d'Aguilar (1615 - 1679) and others. He transcribed, restored, and digitized millions of words generating thousands of translated pages into current Spanish and English. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08PW1BDTS
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