Simon, Richard (1638–1712)

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The French biblical scholar Richard Simon was born in Dieppe, France, and studied with the Oratorians and the Jesuits and at the Sorbonne, specializing in Hebrew and Near Eastern studies. Before being ordained a priest in 1670, he taught philosophy at an Oratorian college. He soon became one of the foremost experts in Hebrew, Judaism, and Eastern Church history. Influenced by Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza's critique of the Bible and by the theory of his friend and fellow Oratorian, Isaac La Peyrère, that there were men before Adam, Simon began developing his views about the Bible and church doctrine. His first published work, a defense of the Jews of Metz (1670), attacked Christian anti-Semitism. It was followed by a study of the Eastern Church, another of Jewish ceremonies and customs, and an attack on the monks of Fécamp. His most important and revolutionary work, Histoire critique du vieux testament, was printed in 1678. Jacques Bénigne Bossuet caused it to be banned immediately, and almost all copies were destroyed. A few reached England, and the work was published in French with an English translation by Henry Dickinson in 1682. The scandal forced Simon to leave the Oratory and become a simple priest. Thereafter, he argued with various Protestant and Catholic thinkers and wrote many works on the history of religion and on the Bible, which culminated in his translation of the New Testament (1702). Bossuet caused this work to be banned also.

Simon's revolutionary contention was that no original text of the Bible exists, that the texts one possesses have developed and have been altered through the ages, and that it is therefore necessary to apply the method of critical evaluation to biblical materials to establish the most accurate human form of the revelation. This method involves philology, textual study, historical researches, and comparative studies. Protestants saw that Simon's claim that there is no perfect copy of scripture fundamentally challenged their position that truth is found only by examining the Bible. Catholics feared that he was undermining all bases of Judeo-Christianity by raising problems about all its documents and traditions. Simon contended that he was merely trying to clarify religious knowledge by showing its foundations and development and the need for a tradition to interpret and understand it. Whether intentional or not, Simon's method launched the whole enterprise of biblical higher criticism, which was often directed toward undermining confidence in the uniqueness and ultimate truth of the Judeo-Christian revelation.

See also Bossuet, Jacques Bénigne; Philosophy of Religion, History of; Revelation.


works by simon

Histoire critique du vieux testament. Paris: N.p., 1678. Lettres choisies de M. Simon. 4 vols. 2nd ed. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Minerva G.N.B.H, 1967.

works about simon

Bredvold, Louis I. The Intellectual Milieu of John Dryden: Studies in Some Aspects of Seventeenth-Century Thought. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1956.

Hazard, Paul. La Crise de la conscience européene (16801715). 2 vols. Paris: Boivin, 1935.

Mirri, F. Saverio. Richard Simon e il metodo storico-critico di B. Spinoza: Storia di un libro e di una polemica sullo sfondo delle lotte politico-religiose della Francia di Luigi XIV. Florence, Italy: F. Le Monnier, 1972.

Ranson, Patric. Richard Simon, ou, Du caractère illégitime de l'augustinisme en théologie. Lausanne, Switzerland: L'Age d'homme, 1990.

Steinmann, Jean. Richard Simon et les origines de l'exégèse biblique. Paris: Desclee de Brouwer, 1960.

Richard H. Popkin (1967, 2005)