Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Extracts by “X.Y.Z Cosmopolite” (Christian Schultz) from his Defense of Theism, [ca. 30 December 1821]


Extracts by “X.Y.Z Cosmopolite” (Christian Schultz) from his Defense of Theism

[ca. 30 Dec. 1821]

(Title) Theism the religion of heaven—all others the offspring of earth. Exemplified in a review of the Law or Five Books of Moses. In which, all the miracles related by that historian, are deduced from natural or political causes. And the total ignorance of that Legislator, concerning the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and of a future state of rewards and punishments: proved to be incompatible with the character of an Inspired writer—By Rabbi Nathan Ben Hassan—“Seek not in heaven, what may be found on earth!”1—Page 2nd. The following is the touchstone, by which Ben Hassan tests the presence of Divinity—Never ascribe any event to the extra agency of an Immortal God, that can possibly be performed or explained by the humble ingenuity of man! Page 3. The whole doctrine of Theism, is comprised in one line. There’s one GodLove him firstThy fellows next. all of which may be comprehended by the meanest capacity, without the aid of kings, priests, altars or temples. Every child may inscribe this essence of all religion, on the nail of his little finger. Do this, and you will be saved.——Introduction—

Nathan Ben Hassan, was early educated in all the rigid maxims of piety and religion: and at fourteen years of age became serious in his Theological inquiries. From that time he continued to study and examine the scriptures, under the direction of a learned professor: but he soon found that he made no progress in understanding, or comprehending them as he had been taught. after this he made himself acquainted with the particular2 tenets of the different sects and religions: all of whom professed to believe something, which appeared to be either incomprehensible, or absurd. He now found himself fast inclining to scepticism: and as he became uneasy in his mind, he finally determined to submit himself wholly to the direction of a superintending Providence; and for that purpose, for more than twenty years successively, he offered up morning and evening petitions to the Most High, entreating Him to enlighten his mind, and enable him to trace a path through that religious labyrinth which he found surrounded him. If his prayers were heard, they were answered contrary to his wishes and expectations: for after a long and painful search for truth, he finds himself under the strongest inducements to believe: that as the eye was formed to see, and the ear to hear: so our reason was designed by God to guide the understanding in all our pursuits after knowledge—And those who venture beyond this, are sure to be landed in the regions of fancy, enthusiasm, or despair!——Nathan Ben Hassan, would still willingly be convinced of the Divine origin of the religion’s of Moses and Christ: but as this appears improbable, he is constrained to conclude, that all the religions of which he has ever read or heard, were nothing more than the offspring of human ingenuity. Theism alone, the most antient of all appears to be the only one worthy of the Exalted character of God, or the attention of man.

Had Ben Hassan remained all his life time in the midst of the noise and bustle of a city, this volume, in all probability, had never been written: for he never entertained the most distant idea of ever writing a work of this kind; but having removed himself with his family in the deepest retirement, it was, as it were forced on his mind, by those calm reflections, which never fail to accompany the friends of virtue in “sweet solitude”——The first shock that was given to the tender mind of Ben Hassan, was at the early age of fourteen years: when he was persuaded by friends over pious, to take the oaths of confirmation to doctrines, it was impossible to comprehend. The second was, after he had prepared himself for the ministry, when the magnitude, and solemn import of the oath of ordination: publicly to declare, he conscientiously believed in mysteries, which he could not even comprehend—made him pause and decline the profession altogether. From his youth, he had always been cautioned against perusing the works of infidel philosophers, and deitical writers: and to this day he has denied himself that gratification; while on the other hand, he perused with avidity, all whom he could find opposed to them. But being blessed with a strong mind, he caught a glimpse of the truth: and when he ventured to raise the forbiden veil of Inspiration, Conviction flashed like lightning to his soul. Accident first enabled him to imitate, the “blossomed rod of Aaron”. And the sight of an apparent “burning bush,” in wilderniss dark and deep as Sinai’s, confirmed him in his doubts.——Ben Hassan has no claims to the rank of a philosopher, or even that of a learned man: for although he received the rudiments of a good education, yet being without a fortune, and a family to provide for, he found it necessary on abandoning the learned professions (as he had no taste for law or Physic), to devote all his time to the care of his family. For twenty years he was engaged in mercantile or political pursuits, during which period he neglected his previous studies so far, as not to have exercised himself by the perusal of even a single page in the learned languages: and by which means they are now in a manner lost to him; but still he devoted all his spare time, to a course of useful reading, including the translations of the antients. And now that he has acquired a moderate fortune by his own industry, with ample time to devote to study, he finds himself too old to form new habits, and his memory to have been too little exercised on those subjects, to recover what he has lost: and thus enable him to treat this review in a scientific manner. But, as good wine needs no bush, so plain and self evident truths do not require the hand of a master to embellish them

Whatever ideas this volume may contain, on the subjects proposed to be treated, they are the natural result of Ben Hassans own investigations. And to him they appear so palpable, and self evident, that he can scarcely conceive it possible for any competent person, who examines them with the same impartiality, not to draw the same conclusions. Indeed he will not be disappointed if hereafter he should hear of hundreds, who had entertained similar ideas on those subjects.

As Ben Hassan considers all religions, as so many bridges on the high way to heaven, he would not be deemed a friend to the human race, was he to attempt to injure the foundation of one, without first pointing out another equally as good, or better. And for this purpose he offers the following professions, after a few more remarks.

There is no public good, nor rational private benefit, promised or anticipated in this world, or the next, by any modern system of religion, enveloped in incomprehensible mysteries, merely to support in idleness an indolent priesthood: but what may be derived from the re=estabilishment of Theism:—the first and only religion of mankind, that can be traced to a pure and indisputable source: free from all suspicions of priestcraft. And withal so simple, that every child may comprehend its whole essence in five minutes, without the aid of any priest. Every thing good and virtuous and compatible with the Love of God, it inculcates; while every thing wicked and vicious is deprecated, both here and for hereafter.——The Heathen, Jewish, Mahomatan and Christian Religions, divided into a thousand sections, now form the religions of mankind. The Christian is denied by nearly three fourth’s of the population of the Globe—The Mahomatan by more than one half—The Jewish by nearly the whole—and the Heathen by nearly another half. Yet all the Mahomatan—all the Christian—all the Jewish—and all the antient Heathen of India and Indostan admit and acknowledge, that Theism was the3 first true religion of mankind. Now as there never4 can be one true religion, that one, which every individual can comprehend, by the aid of that reason alone which God hath granted him to judge by: must surely be the best. As truth is, as unchangeable as the sun, so the true religion is equally unalterable: and whatever was the true religion in the beginning, will infallible remain so until the end of time. For whatever religion came first from God (as that of the first parents) that must be perfect: because nothing imperfect can come from Him. Nor is He such a bungling artificer, as to devise an imperfect religion for Adam: one still more imperfect for Moses: and after discovering his errors, to make a third attempt to perfect one for Christ! It would be equally probable and rational, to contend that he first made the Sun in the form of a cube, secondly after that of a cone, and thirdly and lastly improved it into sphere!


In as much as the liberty of opinion, is guaranteed to all, we now declare our own respecting the following important5 points in Theology.

We believe nothing but what we comprehend.

We believe the whole essence of Theism, and the whole duty of man, is contained in the following single line. There’s but one GodLove Him firstThy fellows next.

We believe in the immortality of the soul, and in a future state of rewards and punishments: where the good and virtuous of all religions will be rewarded, and the wicked punishedWe also believe that sincere repentance and amendment, is of itself sufficient to ensure forgiveness.

We believe Theism the religion of the antient patriarchs, to be the only true one: and that the only acceptable worship we can offer God, consists, as well in a simple silent adoration, as by sacred vocal and instrumental praise: unaided by priests, and uninterrupted by the importunity of vain prayers.


It is impossible for any to believe in the truth of a proposition which they cannot comprehend.——The creation itself affords the best evidence of the existence of an Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omni beneficient God; who is the creator, preserver, and destroyer of all things created.——That man is endowed with a spirit transcendent beyond all sublunary creations, is now generally admitted. And it’s astonishing propensity to soar after knowledge, and as it were, elevate the mind into the presence of the Deity is a powerful argument in favour of it’s immortal origin.——Another reason in favour of the immortality of the Soul, may be drawn from the general consent of mankind. For we believe no authenticated accounts have been received of any nation or religion (the antient Jews excepted), who did not believe in, or admit a future state of some kind or other.

The doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, seems readily to follow that of the immortality of the soul. The very unequal distribution6 of rewards and punishments in this life, are too self evident not to invite us to believe, that we are here in a state of probation only. And every virtuous mind will feel a conviction, that a Just God cannot fail to reward the good, and punish the wicked. But as the object of punishment is to amend and not ruin, the idea of eternal punishment is altogether incompatible with the Beneficient character of God.——With respect to the places of future rewards and punishments, we think it probable that the various suns, will prove to be so many heavens for the virtuous of each solar system: and as hell is to be a place of misery for the wicked, either a hot or cold planet, or a deprivation of all happiness will answer equally well for that purpose.——Prayers and petitions of every kind, are in our opinion presumpteous insults to the Deity. He will do whatever he deems right, without any hints, or instructions from the importunate. Prayers at every meal, even by the most pious, when properly anylised, will be found to be mere mechanical movements, preparatory to that of a sensual gratification. None but weak minds could hesitate a moment in discovering the absurdity, of sanctifying food at particular times on each day; while all that is eaten between those hours, is taken with all it’s profanity! “Food, it is said, is absolutely necessary to support life, and therefore every regular enjoyment thereof, should be accompanied with suitable thanks.” This childish notion has been imbibed, and cherished, in consequence of the sensual gratification of the appetite, in which food appears as the medium of that gratification. But food is not the first necessary of life: there is another of still more importance, but which, as it is not so grossly perceptible, nor so sensually gratifying as roast beef and plumb pudding, is used without any sanctification whatever. For who thinks of returning thanks, or asking blessings for the many barrels of air he daily consumes? Yet the practice may as well be defended in the one instance, as the other. Cows will low, and horses will neigh a brute like welcome, after being accustomed to regular meals. Shall we therefore degrade man, in regulating his intercourse with God, by a monitor so sensual!!——What insulting and presumpteous language is generally used in prayers: where every individual weighs or measures his own merits, and claims a suitable reward from the negligent deity; either in the remission of his sins, or in receiving a proper share of the good things of this world! Can any one seriously believe, that God should for one moment forget to superintend the works of his creation: and stand in need of being reminded by the incessant and idle clamors of men, that they have been neglected, or are in want of another supply from His bountiful hands!!——

Fasting to please God, is equally ridiculous and insulting to Him. It is comparing Him to a fond father of a family, who had provided an abundance of good things for the comfort of his children: but who instead of being pleased with their cheerful enjoyments, prefered to amuse himself with their wants and deprivations!

Another instance of gross folly in this particular, may be seen in certain volumes of ready made prayers: wherein may be found, ready made prayers for the healing of a sick body, down to those for a fair wind, or profitable showers!!!

Prayers, are the offspring of Fear and Doubt: now we do not fear God, because we Love him: but love and fear never can unite in the same person. Besides fear and doubt, naturally lead to a want of confidence, in the preserving and protecting power of an almighty God.——Kneeling for prayer, is one of the most abject and ridiculous remnants of heathen and popish superstitions, that disgraces Christian nations. It is a fag end of that system of plenary dicipline introduced in the Roman church, for the purpose of punishing and mortifying the body, by uneasy postures. While at the same time it is the mode in which all the antient heathen worshipped, by “bending the knee to Baal”. Now as the whole and sole object in practising this posture amongst Christians, appears to be to reverse Gods law of nature, by giving the body a painful, cramped position while paying extra honours to him: we think that purpose would be much better accomplished, by standing at once upon the head, instead of the feet!!!

The Beneficient character of God is so exalted, that the sincere repentance of the wicked, is alsufficient to obtain forgiveness: without the aid or assistance of priests.

As the attributes of the Great God must be infinite goodness, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, mercy, and truth: so these become the golden rule, by which the purity of the doctrine of every sect must be tested; and those that tresspass one iota on any of these sacred attributes, must infallible be false.——We believe that the religion instituted by Moses, was the best he could devise to maintain the Unity of God: and at the same time restrain the idolatry and lisentiousness of a half civilized nation: just emerged from a state of bondage. We likewise believe the religion of Jesus Christ, contains the best system of morals that had then been offered to a demoralized world—and if any mortal ever deserved the title of “Son of God,” it was he.—(Note. Seneca’s system of morals was written about the same time with the Gospels: but evidently without any knowledge of their contents. This sublime pagan sage and philosopher,7 was worthy to rank with no mortal save Christ—Let those who doubt, read)—(The author next assigns the particular8 Causes, that have induced him to doubt the Divine origin of scripture: but as they are too lenghty to copy, I shall conclude this communication, with his explanation of the celebrated miracle of the “blossomed Rod.” He contends that Moses invented the ark of the covenant in imitation of the heathen Oracles, and that he was chiefly indebted to this powerful State engine for his great success—That Moses, like other oriental writers, had imbibed the national propensity of the orientalists, to hide and embellish as supernatural, every little natural occurrence, and thereby rule the people by playing upon the ignorance, credulity and superstitions of those ages).—I shall now proceed.

“Numbers 17.8

‘And9 behold the rod of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed with blossoms, and yielded almonds.’ This miracle of Aarons rod has ever10 been boasted of by our ancestors, as one of the most brilliant, extraordinary, and unanswerable of all the astonishing wonders, with which God honoured our forefathers in the wilderniss. And this too was our own opinion for many years, while the veil of inspiration covered our eyes: but no sooner had we ventured to raise the forbidden curtain, than the light forced it’s way to our darkened mind, and Truth in all her native simplicity, carried conviction to our soul. After obtaining a clue to one miracle, we saw no reason why we might not discover the source of another: and in this way we proceeded for years, until we succeeded in accounting, in a satisfactory manner to ourselves, for all the miracles recorded by Moses. Although we do not profess to be much skilled in the magic art, or that of Legerdemain: yet we are sufficiently confident to think, that with a little practise we could perform this miracle as adroitly as Moses: provided we had a multitude equally ignorant and superstitious,11 to impose upon.”

“It will be deemed reasonable to suppose, that all the rods presented on this occassion, were taken from the almond tree: and the time when this wonder was performed, early in the season, before the almond sprouts or rods had budded or blossomed: otherwise the miracle would have been too suspicious in it’s nature. No one will deny it is presumed, that as Moses was in fact the Lord and master of the tabernacle (as well as of the people) he could not be at a loss for opportunities to enter it occassionally, unnoticed or unperceived, and there execute such parts of his plan, as required to remain a profound secret to all, except Aaron and himself. Now the whole mystery of this pretended miracle lies in this. Moses contemplated performing this miracle two, three or four weeks before he announced it publicly: and for this purpose he had selected for Aaron two rods or sprouts, so nearly alike, as not to be readily distinguished from each other. One of these had the largest end immersed in lukewarm water, and was placed in that holy place where no person except Moses and Aaron were permitted to enter. In a couple of weeks, that part of the rod which was above the water, would have ‘budded and brought forth buds’: and in one or two more (according to the [. . .] climate) some of the buds, would have ‘bloomed and blossomed’: whilst the tree from which the rods were taken, exhibited no such phenomena. As Moses was now ready to perform this exploit, he commanded the twelve rods to be brought, and placed in the sanctuary over night: during which he withdrew Aarons barren rod, and substituted the other in it’s place—and lo! In the morning, it had ‘budded and brought forth buds’ and ‘bloomed with blossoms’! As to it’s ‘yielding almonds,’ that is but a trifleing addition of Moses by way of embellishment: or he might have considered the ‘almonds’ as actually existing in embryo with the blossoms. Rods of the almond tree, may be made to exhibit this miracle in the same way, in any part of the world, where those trees thrive. If a small proportion of oxygenated muriatic acid be added to the water, the vegetation will be more rapid. It is quite probable that Moses may have known and used an agent even more powerful than this.”

MS (MHi); entirely in Christian Schultz’s hand; at head of text: “Copy”; undated; one word illegible.

rabbi nathan ben hassan appears to be another pseudonym of Schultz.

blossomed rod of aaron: in the Bible, Moses placed twelve rods in the tabernacle, each carved with the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The next day the rod of Aaron of the tribe of Levi “was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” (Numbers 17.6–8). God spoke to Moses from a burning bush in Exodus 3. In the epilogue to As You Like It, William Shakespeare used the proverb good wine needs no bush, recalling the traditional use of an ivy bush as the advertisement for a tavern.

Writing under his own name in 1827, Schultz similarly explained the mystery of this pretended miracle of Aaron’s rod in a serialized essay entitled “The Triumph of Truth.” He described that piece as “nothing more than brief extracts from his larger and more regular, but unpublished work, entitled ‘A Review of the Five Books of Moses, in which, all the “miracles” are traced to natural, philosophical, or political causes; and the total ignorance of that legislator concerning the doctrines of the immortality of the soul, and future state of rewards and punishments, proved to be incompatible with the character of an “inspired” writer; with a map of Egypt, Canaan, &c.’” (Correspondent 1 [1827]: 357; 2 [1827]: 54–5, 158). The full “Review” seems never to have been published.

1Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

2Manuscript: “particul.”

3Manuscript: “was the was.”

4Thus in manuscript, with “ever” possibly intended.

5Manuscript: “importants.”

6Manuscript: “distribuition.”

7Manuscript: “philospher.”

8Manuscript: “particelar.”

9Here and in final paragraph, internal quotation marks editorially altered from double to single.

10Reworked from “never.”

11Manuscript: “superstious.”

Index Entries

  • Aaron (Hebrew priest; Moses’s brother) search
  • acid, marine (hydrochloric, muriatic) search
  • Adam (Old Testament figure) search
  • almonds; and Moses search
  • Baal (ancient deity) search
  • Bible; Exodus referenced search
  • Bible; mentioned search
  • Bible; miracles in search
  • Bible; Numbers referenced search
  • Bible; Old Testament search
  • cattle; mentioned search
  • Christianity; and prayer search
  • Christianity; and theism search
  • Christianity; tenets of search
  • clergy; criticism of search
  • fasting; practice criticized search
  • food; and prayer search
  • food; beef search
  • food; puddings search
  • God; as creator search
  • Hinduism; and theism search
  • horses; mentioned search
  • Islam search
  • ivy (plant); as advertisement search
  • Jesus; as prophet search
  • Judaism; teachings of search
  • Moses (Hebrew prophet) search
  • religion; and fasting search
  • religion; and morality search
  • religion; and prayer search
  • religion; and the afterlife search
  • religion; C. Schultz’s Defense of Theism search
  • religion; Hinduism search
  • religion; Islam search
  • religion; Judaism search
  • religion; theism search
  • Schultz, Christian (“Nathan Ben Hassan”; “X.Y.Z Cosmopolite”); Defense of Theism search
  • Schultz, Christian (“Nathan Ben Hassan”; “X.Y.Z Cosmopolite”); occupations of search
  • Schultz, Christian (“Nathan Ben Hassan”; “X.Y.Z Cosmopolite”); on religion search
  • Seneca the Younger (Lucius Annaeus Seneca); writings of search
  • Shakespeare, William; As You Like Itreferenced search
  • taverns; advertisements for search
  • trees; almond search