Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

JUDÆA.

I never was in Judæa, thank God! and I never will go there. I have met with men of all nations who have returned from it, and they have all of them told me that the situation of Jerusalem is horrible; that all the land round it is stony; that the mountains are bare; that the famous river Jordan is not more than forty feet wide; that the only good spot in the country is Jericho; in short, they all spoke of it as St. Jerome did, who resided a long time in Bethlehem, and describes the country as the refuse and rubbish of nature. He says that in summer the inhabitants cannot get even water to drink. This country, however, must have appeared to the Jews luxuriant and delightful, in comparison with the deserts in which they originated. Were the wretched inhabitants of the Landes to quit them for some of the mountains of Lampourdan, how would they exult and delight in the change; and how would they hope eventually to penetrate into the fine and fruitful districts of Languedoc, which would be to them the land of promise!

Such is precisely the history of the Jews. Jericho and Jerusalem are Toulouse and Montpellier, and the desert of Sinai is the country between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

But if the God who conducted the Israelites wished to bestow upon them a pleasant and fruitful land; if these wretched people had in fact dwelt in Egypt, why did he not permit them to remain in Egypt? To this we are answered only in the usual language of theology.

Judæa, it is said, was the promised land. God said to Abraham: “I will give thee all the country between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates.”

Alas! my friends, you never have had possession of those fertile banks of the Euphrates and the Nile. You have only been duped and made fools of. You have almost always been slaves. To promise and to perform, my poor unfortunate fellows, are different things. There was an old rabbi once among you, who, when reading your shrewd and sagacious prophecies, announcing for you a land of milk and honey, remarked that you had been promised more butter than bread. Be assured that were the great Turk this very day to offer me the lordship (seigneurie) of Jerusalem, I would positively decline it.

Frederick III., when he saw this detestable country, said, loudly enough to be distinctly heard, that Moses must have been very ill-advised to conduct his tribe of lepers to such a place as that. “Why,” says Frederick, “did he not go to Naples?” Adieu, my dear Jews; I am extremely sorry that the promised land is the lost land.

By the Baron de Broukans.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25