Uriel Acosta

Uriel Acosta

Dutch philosopher, predecessor of Baruch Spinoza.
Country: Netherlands

  1. Biography of Uriel da Costa
  2. Early Life and Conversion
  3. Heresy and Conflict
  4. Second Excommunication and Tragedy
  5. The Final Act
  6. Philosophical Views
  7. Legacy

Biography of Uriel da Costa

Early Life and Conversion

Uriel da Costa was a Dutch philosopher and a predecessor to Baruch Spinoza. He was born into a family of Marranos, who had once converted to Catholicism to avoid the expulsion of Jews from Portugal. His father was a priest. In 1617, the Costa family decided to return to Judaism and fled to Amsterdam, where a large community of Portuguese Jews already existed. In Amsterdam, the entire family openly declared themselves Jews, and Gabriel changed his name to Uriel. However, Costa's understanding of Judaism, based on his reading of the Bible, significantly differed from the actual Judaism of his time.

Heresy and Conflict

In 1624, Costa published a book titled "Investigation of the Pharisee Tradition Compared to the Written Law." The Sephardic rabbi of the Amsterdam community condemned Costa for this book, while the secular authorities arrested and fined him. The book was burned, and even his close relatives began to avoid him. In 1633, unable to bear the loneliness, Costa sought reconciliation with the Jewish community. The excommunication was lifted, but Costa did not change his views.

Second Excommunication and Tragedy

Due to his heretical views and failure to adhere to Jewish religious laws, Costa was again excommunicated after being reported by a fanatic relative. His marriage could not take place; his family turned away from him, and people avoided him. Street boys harassed and spat on him. In 1640, the second excommunication was lifted after Costa publicly renounced his views. As a repentant heretic, he received the traditional 39 lashes, and all the congregants symbolically stepped over him as they exited the synagogue.

The Final Act

Costa's spirit was broken. He composed an autobiography titled "Exemplar humanae vitae" (Example of Human Life), in which he strongly criticized orthodox Judaism. Afterwards, he armed himself with two pistols and waited on the street for his greatest enemy - the fanatic relative who caused all his troubles - to seek revenge. He shot at him but missed, and with his second shot, he took his own life.

Philosophical Views

In his book "Investigation of the Pharisee Tradition Compared to the Written Law," Costa claimed that the rabbis distorted the teachings of Moses with complex rituals and dry formalism. He also argued that the doctrine of immortality and the afterlife did not stem from the Bible. Costa viewed all existing religions as human inventions. Although he did not deny the existence of God, Costa rejected all forms of religious ritual and instead saw the highest sanction of ethical principles in the laws of human nature, advocating for a deistic "natural religion."


Costa is generally regarded as the first Jewish freethinker of the Modern Era and a precursor and inspiration to Baruch Spinoza.