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

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§ 17: Thus, education and revelation meet here, too. God was still unable to give his people any other religion, any other law, than one through whose observance or non-observance they hoped, or feared, to be happy or unhappy here on Earth. For their vision did not extend beyond this life. They knew of no immortality of the soul; they yearned for no future life. But had things been revealed for which their reason was still unprepared – would God have done any different than commit the error of the vain pedagogue who would rather rush the child along and boast of him, than give him thorough instruction?

§ 18: But what, one will ask, was the purpose of educating such a primitive people, a people with whom God had to start so entirely from the very beginning? My reply is: in order, later on, to be able to use particular members of this people with greater assuredness as educators of all other peoples. In them, he was educating the future teachers of the human race. This is what the Jews became, what only the Jews could become, only men from a people thusly educated.

§ 19: And further: when the child had grown up with blows and caresses and then reached the age of understanding, the father promptly sent it out into foreign lands, and there it recognized immediately the good it had enjoyed but had failed to appreciate in its father's house.

§ 20: While God was leading his chosen people through all the stages of a child’s education, the other peoples of the earth were making their way according to the light of reason. Most of them trailed far behind the chosen people; only a few got ahead of it. This, too, happens in the case of children who are allowed to grow up on their own: many remain completely primitive; others develop themselves to an astonishing extent.

§ 21: But just as these more fortunate few in no way disprove the usefulness and necessity of instruction, neither do the few heathen peoples who up until now seemed more advanced than the chosen people, even in their knowledge of God, in any way disprove revelation. The child of education starts off with slow but sure steps; it is late in overtaking many a more fortunately organized child of nature; but it overtakes this child nonetheless, and is thereafter never overtaken by it again.

§ 22: Similarly (leaving aside the doctrine of the unity of God, which is both present and absent in the books of the Old Testament), I say, the fact that at least the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the associated doctrine of punishment and reward in a future life are not found therein does just as little to disprove the divine origin of these books. All this notwithstanding, these books may contain perfect truth with regard to all the miracles and prophecies described therein. For let us suppose that these doctrines were not only missing therein, but that they were also not even true; let us suppose that, for man, everything comes to an end with this life – would the existence of God therefore be any less demonstrated thereby? Would God therefore be any less free? Would it therefore befit God any less to take charge of the temporal destiny of any one people among this transitory human race? The miracles he performed for the Jews, the prophecies that he let be recorded through them, were by no means only for the few mortal Jews in whose time they had happened and were recorded. His intentions here concerned the entire Jewish people, the whole human race, which may be destined to remain here on earth forever, even if every individual Jew, every individual man, were to perish forever

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