Manuscript held by G. W. Leibniz Bibliothek, Hanover
Shelfmark LH 20, Bl. 102-103

Date: 1688 - 1695 (?)

Translated from the French

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[LH 20, Bl. 102r]

Account of two seventeenth-century Jews who wrote about religion, and especially of Isaac Orobio who published a book against the Christian religion, to which an Armenian named Limborch responded.

As for Orobio:2 "He died shortly after the publication of this book in Amsterdam,3 where he practiced medicine. His name was Isaac Orobio, and before he left Spain, Don Balthasar Orobio. His father and mother had raised him in the opinions of the Jews, although they professed the Catholic religion without observing anything of Judaism. If this is not the young man of the Day of Atonement, in the month of Tisri, that is, in September.4 He had studied scholastic philosophy in the Spanish fashion, and became so versed in it that he was made a reader in metaphysics at the University of Salamanca. Later he applied himself to medicine and practiced it in Seville. At that time he was accused of Judaism and was delivered to the inquisition, in whose hands he remained for three years and about which he attempted to offer a description so vivid and so horrible that it would be desirable he had written it in order to instruct the public of the almost inconceivable cruelty of the inquisitors of the faith, of which we have already seen a good part in the Account of the Inquisition of Goa, which has just been printed in Paris, with privilege of the King, for a second time. Our Jew, being locked up in a dungeon where he could hardly turn around, and where he suffered all imaginable hardships, often asserted that his long stay in this dreadful abode almost disturbed his judgement and that he wondered more than once about himself 'son yo Don Balthasar Orobio?' etc. Am I really this Don Balthasar Orobio, who was walking in Seville, who was so at his ease and who had a wife and children? Sometimes he almost thought that his past life had been merely a dream, and that the dungeon he was in at the time had seen his birth, as apparently it would see his death. At other times, as he was extremely given to metaphysics, he formed for himself metaphysical arguments, and solved them, so that he was the opponent, the respondent, and the judge all at once. He said he consoled himself from time to time with this kind of bizarre entertainment. Yet he always denied that he was a Jew, and he suffered horrible torments - through fear of death - rather than confessing the truth. After having appeared before the inquisitors two or three times, he was subjected to torture, which he described in this way. In the depths of an [LH 20, Bl. 102v] underground vault, illuminated by a small number of torches, he appeared before two people, one of whom was a judge of the Inquisition, the other a secretary who, after having asked if he wished to confess the truth, declared that in the event he denied it the Holy Office would not be the cause of the criminal's death, only his own stubbornness, if it should happen that he expired in his torments. Then an executioner undresses him, binds his feet, ties his hands with a rope, and makes him climb on a little seat in order to be able to pass the rope to the iron buckles fastened to the wall. After that, the seat is pulled from under the feet of the prisoner so that he remains suspended by the rope that the executioner squeezes even more violently until the criminal has confessed, or a surgeon, who is also present, warn the judges that he cannot endure it any more without dying. As one might readily suppose, these ropes cause enormous pain when they start to enter the flesh and swell the hands and feet to the point of drawing blood through the nails. As the prisoner is violently squeezed against the wall, and as pulling the ropes with so much force would run the risk of tearing off all his limbs, care was taken beforehand to wrap some bandages around his chest. They are squeezed extremely tight, and he would be in some danger of not being able to get his breath back if he did not hold it while the executioner put these bandages on him. He thus preserves enough space in his lungs for them to perform their function. At the moment his suffering reached its peak, he is told (to frighten him) that it is only the beginning of his suffering and that it will be good to confess before the extreme point is reached. Mr Orobio also declared that, besides the torments, of which we have just spoken, the executioner dropped on the prisoner's legs a small ladder upon which he climbed, and whose sharp rungs caused an incredible pain upon the bones of his legs. Finally, if the accused constantly denies, he is healed from the wounds that the ropes have caused and released. As soon as our Jew was free, he thought only of leaving Spain, and indeed he went to France, where he was made Professor of Medicine in Toulouse. He supported theses about putrefaction, and he declared that by means of his metaphysics he hampered those who lay claim to the Chair of Medicine, which was vacant. He stayed there for a while, always [LH 20, Bl. 103r] professing the Catholic religion, but being tired of so long a pretence he went to Amsterdam, where he was circumcised and professed Judaism.
     After what we have just said about Mr Orobio, we shall not be surprised to find in his writings much more subtlety and reasoning than is usually found in the writings of those of his religion. It is no longer uncommon to see people come here who, having professed the Roman religion in Spain, now confess that they have been Jews in their heart their entire lives. It is good before entering the matter to place here a passage from Mr Orobio on this subject. Here is how he speaks on p102: 'Many canons, inquisitors and bishops have descended from Jews. There are still many who are Jews in the heart and who pretend to be Christians because of the temporal goods they enjoy. Some even repent, and escape if they can. In this city and many other places we have monks who have withdrawn from idolatry, Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans. In Spain there are well-respected bishops and monks whose parents, brothers and sisters are in this city, and elsewhere, in order to be able to observe Judaism.'"
     "In addition to the dispute with Mr Orobio, there is here a very curious piece entitled Urielis Acosta Exemplat vitae humanae. It is the work of a deist who killed himself in this city about forty years ago, and which was found in his house after his death. Here is his story in a few words, as he tells it himself in his work. His name was Gabriel Acosta and he was born in Porto, Portugal, to Christian parents of Jewish origin, as are many others in that country. He says he was a good Catholic in his childhood, but that at the age of 22 he encountered some difficulties about this religion that he could not overcome. Then he fell into doubts concerning the immortality of the soul and he began to suspect that what was said about that was without foundation and contrary to reason. However, he did not reveal this to anyone and he even obtained a benefice. Having heard about the differences between the Jews and the Christians, he one day had the desire to read the Old Testament, in which he thought he found less difficulty than in the New, with the result that he became a Jew. Having persuaded his mother and his brothers of the same views, he fled with them to Amsterdam to profess these views. He was circumcised, and took the name Uriel, but it soon became clear to him that the views and practice of modern Jews did not correspond to the idea of Judaism he had drawn from the Old Testament. [LH 20, Bl. 103v] He declared this to the rabbis, and as he refused to surrender to the supreme authority of the parnassim, or directors of the synagogue, they excommunicated him. He wanted to write a book to defend himself, and in composing it he fell again into Saduceism. He was refuted by a Jew, who in 1623 published in Spanish a book on the immortality of the soul. Uriel replied, and was referred to the magistrate who fined him 300 francs and ordered the confiscation of his copies [of his book]. At that time he began to think that the law of Moses was only a fiction, and in this vein he believed that nothing prevented him from pretending to approve the views of the rabbis. He did this after fifteen years of excommunication. However, in private he did not observe the law, and he even convinced a Spaniard and an Italian to become Jews. This was reported, and caused him countless problems, which he describes in a very moving way. The rabbis condemned him to make honourable amends in this way: he was to enter the synagogue dressed as the devil, a black candle in his hand, where he would receive thirty-nine lashes and suffer other ignominies. He refused to submit to this sentence and remained for seven years in this state, ill-treated by his parents, harassed by small children when he went out, and exposed to a thousand sorrows, apparently because he did not dare complain to the magistrate, although he attributes the cause to the lengths to which justice will go. Finally, as the Jews promised to treat him gently if he returned to them and surrendered himself to their judgement, he resolved to believe them, but they did not spare him, as he recounts at length. This plunged him into despair, and only confirmed him in the thought that there is no true religion except the one he calls natural, which he tries to prove in this little work. But the problems to which he exposed himself by publicising these views made him resolve to end such a miserable life while nevertheless taking revenge on his enemies. He composed this writing beforehand, to leave his strange story to posterity, as he declares at the end. And one day, as one of his relatives, who had persecuted him the most, passed in front of his door, he wanted to shoot him with a pistol, but as the pistol did not fire he closed his door and killed himself with another pistol, which he had apparently prepared for that. As we have said, after his death this writing, which is full of passion and which shows that he was not destitute of eloquence, was found at his house."


1. In the Ritterkatalog this text is given a tentative date of 1695. It cannot have been written before 1688, the year the book quoted in it was published.
2. The title and the first three words of this paragraph are the only parts of this text written in Leibniz's hand. The rest is written by an amanuensis, with Leibniz making his additions later.
3. That is, Philipp van Limborch's De veritate religionis christianae amica collatio cum erudito judeo [A friendly conversation with a learned Jew about the truth of the Christian religion] (Gouda, 1687).
4. An allusion to Ta'an. 4:8: "'Young man' Raise your eyes and behold what you choose for yourself."
5. This passage is copied verbatim from an anonymous review of Philipp van Limborch's De veritate religionis christianae amica collatio cum erudito judeo (1687) in Bibliotheque universelle et historique de l'année M.D.C.LXXXVII. Tome septième (Amsterdam: Wolfgang, Boom, & van Someren, 1688), 248-252 (the full review spans 248-283). The review is unlikely to have been written by Leibniz; rather, he probably asked his amanuensis to make extracts from it, to which he then added a title and a few opening words.
6. That is, he fell again into the belief that there is no afterlife.
7. This passage is copied verbatim from the same anonymous review of Limborch's De veritate religionis christianae amica collatio cum erudito judeo as the first passage; this time the extract is from pages 280-283.

© Lloyd Strickland 2018