GHDI logo

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, The Education of the Human Race (1777)

page 2 of 14    print version    return to list previous document      next document

§ 7: Polytheism and idolatry thus arose naturally. And who knows how many millions of years human reason might have spent drifting among these errors – despite the fact that, in all places and at all times, certain individual men recognized them as such – had it not pleased God to give it a better direction through a new impulse.

§ 8: But when he no longer could or would reveal himself to each individual man, he selected an individual people for his special education, and he selected precisely the least refined and most uncivilized people, in order to start with them from the very beginning.

§ 9: This was the people of Israel, of whom we know nothing when it comes to their divine worship in Egypt, for such despised slaves were not allowed to take part in the divine worship of the Egyptians, and the God of their fathers had become absolutely forgotten by them.

§ 10: Perhaps the Egyptians had expressly prohibited them from having any and all gods, forcing them to believe that they had no god or gods, and that to have a god or gods was the prerogative of the superior Egyptians only – having done so in order to tyrannize them with all the greater a pretense of fairness. Do Christians treat their slaves very differently even now?

§ 11: To this primitive people, God first let himself be proclaimed merely as the god of their fathers, in order to acquaint and familiarize them with the idea of a god of their own and to inspire confidence in him.

§ 12: Through the miracles by which he led them out of Egypt and settled them in Canaan, he proved himself to be a god mightier than any other.

§ 13: And as he continued to prove himself to them as the mightiest of all – which, of course, only one can be – he gradually accustomed the people to the concept of the One.

§ 14: But how far indeed was this concept of the One from the true transcendental concept of the One, which reason learned so much later to deduce with certainty from the concept of the infinite.

§ 15: Even if the best among the people were more or less approaching the true concept of the One – the people as a whole were long unable to elevate themselves; and this was the only true reason why they so often abandoned their one and only God and thought they could find the One (that is, the mightiest) in some other god of another people.

§ 16: But what kind of moral education was such a primitive people, so incapable of abstract thoughts, and still so completely in a state of childhood, ready for? None other than that appropriate to the age of childhood: education through direct physical punishment and rewards.

first page < previous   |   next > last page