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Pierre Bayle: Men of blood not permitted to build temples

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

Pierre Bayle: The God of fratricide is a lunatic invention

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Pierre Bayle
Historical and Critical Dictionary
Translated by Richard H. Popkin

From Henry of Eppendorf

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” says the Bible. This is very true in terms of the other world; but in terms of this one they are very miserable. They do not want to be the hammer, and because of this they are continually the anvil, beaten from all sides.

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From David

The conquests of David shall be the subject of my last observation. There are some rigid casuists who do not think that a Christian prince can lawfully engage in a war merely from a desire to aggrandize himself. These casuists only approve of defensive wars, or, in general, those that tend only to restore to every man the possessions belonging to him. On the basis of this view, David had frequently undertaken unjust wars; for, besides the fact that Scripture often presents him as the aggressor, we find that he “extended the limits of his empire from Egypt to the Euphrates”…

But if, generally speaking, the conquests of that holy monarch have increased his glory without prejudice to his justice, it will be difficult to admit this proposition when we enter in particulars…Let us confine ourselves to what the Sacred History has told us of the way in which he treated the vanquished. “And he brought forth the people that were therein and put them under saws and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon” (II Samuel 12:31)…Let us see how he treated the Moabites: “And he smote Moab and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he put to death, and with one full line to keep alive” (II Samuel 8:2). That is to say, he decided to put precisely two-thirds of them to death, neither more nor less. Edom received yet a harsher treatment. He slew all the males there. “For six months did Joab remain there with all Israel, until he had cut off every male in Edom” (I Kings 11:16). Can it be said that this way of waging war is not to be condemned? Have not the Turks and the Tartars a little more humanity? And if a vast number of pamphlets complain about the military executions of our time, which are really cruel and much to be blamed, though mild in comparison to David’s, what would the authors of those pamphlets not say if they had the saws, harrows, and brickkilns of David, and the general slaughter of all the males, young and old, to condemn?

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From all that has been said in the preceding remarks…it may be easily inferred that if the Syrians had been as great writers of libels as Europeans are nowadays, they would have strangely disfigured David’s glory. What infamous names and titles would they not have used for that band of adventurers who joined him after he left Saul’s court? The Scripture informs us that all those who were persecuted by the creditors, all the discontented, and all those who were in bad circumstances went to him, and he became their captain…Those who have written the history of Cataline and of Caesar would furnish a satirical painter with a great many colors…It is true that by the testimony of God himself, David was a man of blood; for which reason God would not permit him to build the temple…

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