Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter LX
Usbek to Ibben, at Smyrna
YOU ask me if there are Jews in France. Know that wherever there is money, there are Jews. You ask me what they do. Exactly what they do in Persia: nothing is liker an Asiatic Jew than a European one.  1
  They exhibit among the Christians, as among ourselves, an invincible attachment to their religion, amounting to folly.  2
  The Jewish religion is like the trunk of an old tree which has produced two branches that cover the whole earth—I mean Mohammedanism and Christianity: or rather, she is the mother of two daughters that have loaded her with a thousand bruises; 1 for, in religious matters, the nearest relations are the bitterest foes. But however badly her daughters have treated her, she ceases not to glory in having brought them forth: she has made use of both of them to encircle the whole earth, just as her venerable age embraces all time.  3
  The Jews therefore regard themselves as the fountain of all holiness, the source of all religion: us they look upon as heretics who have changed the law, or rather as rebel Jews.  4
  If the change had been made gradually, they imagine that they might have been easily led away; but as it took place suddenly, and with violence, and as they can mark the day and the hour of the birth of both daughters, they mock at religions that have had beginnings, and cling to one that is older than the world itself.  5
  They have never been freer from molestation in Europe than they are now. Christians are beginning to lose the spirit of intolerance which animated them: experience has shown the error of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and of the persecution of those Christians in France whose belief differed a little from that of the king. They have realized that zeal for the advancement of religion is different from a due attachment to it; and that in order to love it and fulfill its behests, it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who are opposed to it.  6
  It is much to be desired that our Mussulmans regarded this matter as rationally as the Christians, and that peace were established in all good faith between Hali and Abubeker, 2 leaving God to decide the merits of these holy prophets. I would have them honored by acts of veneration and respect, and not by foolish preferences. Let us seek to merit their favor, whatever place God has given them; whether it be at His right hand, or beneath the footstool of His throne.

  PARIS, the 18th of the moon of Saphar, 1714.
Note 1. Voltaire, in his article on the Jews in the “Philosophical Dictionary,” has reproduced this idea of Montesquieu’s without acknowledging it. [back]
Note 2. Abu Bekr, father-in-law of Mohammed, was proclaimed Caliph on the death of the prophet, in 632. According to the Persians, this nomination was a usurpation of the rights of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Mohammed. (See Note, p. 36.) [back]

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